Carrie-Anne and I saw the Midland Community Theatre’s production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Saturday night in support of one of her students from Midland High’s Freshman campus. Ava Young – sweet, gentle, precious, Ava Young – played the role of Veruca Salt, the spoiled and demanding brat from Russia whose father buys her everything. And she played it perfectly. It’s shocking and so really cool to watch somebody act so completely opposite of their character and normal behavior on the stage like that. She said she was nervous; it did not show. She was incredible. Over-the-top. By the time it happened, you wanted her to be pulled apart limb by limb by the oversized squirrels.
This sounds strange, I know, but I have never seen any production of Willy Wonka from start to finish. I’ve never read the original book by Roald Dahl, never seen the Gene Wilder film from 1971, or the Tim Burton / Johnny Depp version from 2005. I thought I was familiar with the plot, but I’ve never seen the movies or the theater productions, so I had no idea it was so richly deep in social critique. I had no clue it was about a capitalist dystopia in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I didn’t know Willy Wonka was the bad guy. I didn’t know the Oompa Loompas were shipped from the jungles of their homeland on false pretenses and forced to work in Wonka’s factory. And forced to abandon their native language for English.
It’s genius. And still very relevant. And scary.
I was especially struck by the song “Vidiots” towards the end of the play, in which Mike Teavee becomes trapped inside the television. In describing television, Wonka declares that it takes the whole big world around us and makes everything smaller. TV makes everything smaller. Including Mike. Including everything. I know the Dahl novel and the movie versions don’t analyze the corrupting effects of the internet on our brains, only the damaging impact by television. But this newer version by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman updates the scene and the song to reflect our current society’s addiction to digital technology. The song is about the kids, but it applies to adults, too.
He’s like so many nowadays; it’s awfully modern, this malaise.
For every child who threw a fit, the TV set would babysit.
Attention spans have gone pal-mal; there’s only time for L.O.L.
They never step outside to play; their world is dark both night and day.
The skies of blue, of pinks and greens, are only viewed on laptop screens.
They only move and exercise their clicking finger and their thumb;
each brain cell overloads and dies as all their limbs are turning numb.
The age of innocence is gone when certain sites are clicked upon;
the images that they repeat – once in their brain, they can’t delete.
And then like some barbaric Huns, our toddlers are all packing guns.
And children curse and smoke cigars; our nurseries now have prison bars.
They scream and rant and raise their fists and fire their psychiatrists.
We hear them – all the teenage hordes – they scream their battle cry, “We’re bored!”
With all this info at a click, the books will rot upon the shelf;
if all the answers come too quick, a child won’t think for himself.
Each day they text on their new toy their thoughts and their location,
but, O.M.G., will this destroy the art of conversation?
For wasting his entire brain, he’s stuck inside his own domain.
He’ll channel surf ’til, where upon, he’ll find that nothing good is on.
And there is no remote control that he can use to find his soul.
His secrets now are yours and mine, ’cause everything he’s got online.
And who will watch Mike Teavee when there is newer junk to see?
What once was viral, soon forgot.
But hand the clicker to his mom,
his future’s not completely shot,
his new address is Mike-dot-com.
I am ordering the book right now, hopefully an already printed version that still contains the words “fat” and “ugly.”