Prime Stage Theatre states the following two principles in their mission statement “… to entertain, educate, and enrich…” and “to bring literature to life.” These goals are both lofty and important, especially for today’s youth. This mission—as well as some very successful story-telling—is accomplished in Animal Farm by Andrew Periale, adapted from the novella of the same name by George Orwell, currently running until March 15th at the New Hazlett Theatre.
I’m going to assume you’ve all read this book, but just in case you skipped that week freshman year of high school, I’ll give you the reader’s digest version. Basically, some animals live on a farm. They are tired of the treatment they are getting from Farmer Jones and stage a revolt to take over. They create a utopian society of friends and run the farm themselves, changing the name from Manor Farm to Animal Farm. At Animal Farm, “all animals are equal.” Things get hard. The pigs take over. And all of a sudden “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Soon the pigs start walking and talking and drinking like humans, and return Animal Farm to its original Manor Farm. And everything sucks.
Director Melissa Hill Grande leads an energetic and fully committed cast as well as a clearly capable production team through this journey. This production truly embraced the ideals of Bertolt Brecht and his Epic Theatre. This was an evening of story-telling; I sat in the theatre and was told the story of George Orwell’s novella rather than be shown the story. Most contemporary theatre strays from this and hopes to get the audience so emotionally invested in the story that they almost forget they are sitting at a play. This is the opposite, this play wants to you always be aware that you are a sitting at a play. There is no fourth wall, the audience is involved in most of the scenes and narration is given directly to us during scene changes. At one point, there is even a sing-a-long. A lot of people are down for a sing-a-long. I am not one of those people. The goal of Brecht and his approach to theatre was to make the audience think—to to think critically about social and political issues as well as their own personal involvement in the world around them—and this production honors that.
The set, which was designed and painted by Adrienne Fisher, is phenomenal. The rustic old farm grounds of Manor/Animal Farm look beautiful under lighting designed by J.R. Shaw. The cast is captivating and entertaining while totally embracing their ever changing roles and various animal characteristics. We get to hear them sing and do some puppetry, as well as perform some great pantomimes, which I’m assuming are choreographed by Movement Director Stefan Zubal. John Michnya (as cart-horse Boxer) and Chelsea Bartel (as caring and loveable Clover) stand out among the talented cast because although the audience is somewhat detached emotionally from the story, they are the two you find yourself having compassion for.
This production is going to be a very polarizing one—you’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it. I don’t think there will be many people who fall in the middle. Even though it may not be everyone’s “cup of tea,” per se, it is definitely a fantastic tool for entertaining, educating and enriching as well as “bringing literature to life.”
Special thanks to Prime Stage Theatre for two complenetary press tickets for the preview performance on March 6th. Tickets for the show can be purchased here.