Writer George Orwell never made it to the United States, but now he does in a fictional imagining of what it would have been like had he come here on a book tour. “Orwell in America,” written by Joe Sutton, stars Jamie Horton as Orwell, whose birth name was Eric Blair, and Horton gives the play a terrific lift with a performance that soars.
The time period is post-war 1940s and the book Orwell is promoting on a lecture tour is his classic “Animal Farm.” The action flips back and forth between his sessions with Jeanna de Waal as Carlotta, assigned as his publicist and handler by the publishing house, and his addressing the theater audience as if it were his lecture audience.
Orwell is having a difficult time, given his position as a socialist in a country beset by the Red Scare, with many not being able to tell the difference between socialist ideals and Communism under Stalin. He appears as an intellectual author in a non-intellectual climate.
What Horton does exceedingly well is build a portrait of Orwell as a rigid man and thinker minus the gift of personal appeal needed to win peple over to his ideas. (I leave it to historians as to whether this portrait is accurate, but it works very well in this drama.) As the play progresses, we get to feel we are seeing the real Orwell.
Much praise is due his stage partner de Waal. She turns in a very impressive performance as Carlotta, an attractive young woman who is trying to figure out what makes Orwell tick, and is often exasperated by his attitude toward audiences. She argues with him a lot, and he makes sexual advances to her in a nice way, but while she tries to please in friendly fashion, she knows better than to succumb. De Waal touches all the dramatic bases just right, and Orwell develops respect for her.
Director Peter Hackett manages the scenic flow tidily and keeps the focus where it should be at all times. Recorded voices are heard from the back of the theater to pose baiting questions to Orwell as if attending one of his appearances. At awards time attention should be paid to this major acting accomplishment by Horton. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-3200. Reviewed October 18, 2016.