BWW Review: The Seeing Place Brings Engaging Humanity to George Orwell's ANIMAL FARM
"Welcome to our meeting," greet the actors to those entering the intimate Paradise Factory for The Seeing Place's very engaging production of Brandon Walker's adaptation of George Orwell's allegorical classic, ANIMAL FARM.
Viewers are seated at three sides of the room, labeled "Sheep", "Hens" and "Cows".
"Sit in whichever feels right," advises one of the four players, who are all dressed in black and are either relaxing on the clumps of hay on the floor or getting about on all fours.
In a production co-directed by Walker, who is the company's Producing Artistic Director, and Erin Cronican, who serves as Executive Artistic Director, each member of the excellent quartet plays an assortment of characters, both human and animal, impressively relying solely on changing their physicality and vocals.
Originally published in 1945 and subtitled "A Fairy Story," the famed British novelist created a world where farm animals rebel against Mr. Jones (Walker) the alcoholic human who has been mismanaging the environs. Inspired by the words of an elderly boar named Old Major (William Ketter), the revolution is led by young pigs Snowball (Cronican) and Napoleon (Walker) and a new prosperous society is created, guided by the Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most sacred of which states "All animals are equal."
But the definition of equality might be considered subjective, especially when the pigs take advantage of their superior brains to establish dominance. Though the sheep conform willingly to the commands of their leaders (their chants of "four legs good, two legs bad" help drown out dissonance), the responses to daily updates announced by propaganda chief Squealer (Laura Clare Browne) are met with varying responses from beasts such as the obediently hard-working horse Boxer (Walker) and the cynical donkey Benjamin (Ketter), who sees what's inevitable and chooses not to get involved.
Orwell was alluding to the rise of Joseph Stalin to transform Russia into the Soviet Union, but 2020 audiences may read into the story whatever era they like, particularly when contemporary-sounding phrases are slyly snuck in. The issue of requiring hens to donate their eggs to be sold for the greater good has one of them (Cronican) declaring, "My eggs, my choice!"
Though not played as children's theatre, ANIMAL FARM is certainly appropriate for well-behaved youngsters who can sit through two acts and understand the message about the abuse of power. As for adults, we can admire the fine artistry of Seeing Place's company while wondering when people will ever learn.