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Like clockwork?
Company One brings Anthony Burgessís novel to Boston

When Alex, our "faithful narrator" in Anthony Burgessís A Clockwork Orange, needs a bit of a lift, he tosses on a Ludwig Van. When the Dresden Dolls go on tour, they travel in a vehicle theyíve dubbed "Ludwig Van." Amanda Palmer, the burlesque-y diva of the duo, will tell you that throughout high school, she played her vinyl copy of the soundtrack to the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film. Moreover, sheís been tinkering with Beethovenís melodies on the piano since she was a kid. So when Company One asked her to record a score for its production of the dystopian nightmare, which opens next Thursday, it hardly mattered that the Dolls were wrapped up in a tight schedule of shooting videos and darting off to play in Paris and LA. Never mind the limited time in the recording studio: with a few riffs from some of Beethovenís better-known symphonies and sonatas, Palmer set about improvising a melodic landscape for the sadistic sturm und drang.

"The idea was just to start from scratch and not try to create anything specific, just look at the project in the simplest way possible," she explains. "We know the tone of the piece, the fact that the material is dark. We knew we wanted a lot of dynamic. Then we just said, ĎLetís take these themes and improvise, and be the Dresden Dolls.í We tried not to overthink it. Brian and I already have a common language, and when it comes to something like this, as long as weíre working in our element, we can come up with great stuff on really short notice."

Music figures prominently into Burgessís plot. The score in Kubrickís film was composed by avant-garde synth pioneer Wendy Carlos, who was manipulating discordant bleeps and blitzes when electronic music was a mere novelty. But a lesser-known fact for all you droog devotees is that in 1990, when the Royal Shakespeare Company premiered Anthony Burgessís own adaptation, A Clockwork Orange 2004, the action was accompanied by original music by U2ís the Edge and Bono.

A stage version of Alexís sadistic binges and consequent reformation? As legend has it, Burgess wrote the script in response to Kubrickís screenplay (which he was not pleased with). Kubrick hadnít incorporated the novelís final chapter, in which Alexís philosophical reflections negate all that came before. This chapter didnít appear in the American publication of the book, and Kubrick apparently didnít find out about it until heíd finished his screenplay. According to Shawn LaCount, whoís directing for Company One, Burgessís script pared down the dialogue. Company One wanted to incorporate as much of that dialogue as possible without sounding preachy, so itís gone in and bulked Burgessís version up.

When it came to the music, the Dolls seemed a natural fit: not only does the dark, lusty mood of their punk-cabaret style suit the story, but LaCountís artistic approach is to make productions relevant to their surroundings. The Dolls, of course, are as Boston as local bands get, having been spawned here and won last yearís Rumble. LaCount eliminated the cockney English and infused the story with more of a street angle. "The whole story is political ó and weíll have the DNC in town. It deals with legislating morality. That applies to our school system, religion, politics. I donít know how Dr. Brodskyís way of reforming Alex is different from cloning or sex education in schools. Itís about the placement of morality and where government chooses to intervene in our ability to make choices in America."

Company One presents A Clockwork Orange July 22 through August 14 at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street in the South End. Tickets are $15 to $25; call (617) 426-ARTS.

Issue Date: July 16 - 22, 2004
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