Dusk had yet hit and I’m on the edge of some suburban, southwesterly boundary of Milwaukee County. The clouds hold harmonies of country fields, drawn off key a bit by encroaching gated communities. Historic Trimborn Farm in Greenfield was platted there, and gave plot for Quasimondo Physical Theatre’s physical and interpretive theater adaption of George Orwell’s classic socio-political commentary Animal Farm.
In the Dell
Kicking-off their second formal production season, with great ambition as always, Quasimondo devises several acts of scenes transforming puppets into the mammalian hides of domesticated animals. Mr. Jones (Ben Yela) farms these animals: a hand full of pigs with alphas Napoleon (Kirk Thomsen), Snowball (Jessi Miller), and Squealer (Jeff Kriesel); a charming Cow, Clover (Danielle Levings); a sturdy horse, Boxer (Michael Guthrie) and sumptuous phillie Mollie (Emma Kate).
Benjamin the donkey (Jordan Moran) gives the animal politic a no-nonsense layman conscious, bearing the burden of limited instincts held by a flock of sheep (Kristoffer Xavier), peep of chickens (Michael Petit), and a gaggle of geese (Kris Sukup), a pack of dogs captained by Bluebell (Julia Teeguarden), some birds and Moses the domesticated raven (Andrew Parchman) cawing mocking humor.
The audience is invited into the social workings of Manor Farm‘s animal citizenry, a micro-civilization on the brink of revolt. Dissatisfied with their treatment under whip of their fiefdom ruler Mr. Jones, the animals plot to take over the farm and re-write the virtues of agrarian economics.
Urged by the philosophies and charisma of Animal Farm’s fallen fore-hog Old Major (voice of Brian Rott), the remaining inner circle of pigs record a manifesto of “Animalism” to guide their machinations to achieve freedom. A struggle for power ensues between Snowball and Napoleon. Who’s vision will carry Animal Farm to the future prosperity?
As events on the newly liberated “Animal Farm” bring new order to the beasts, the natural trappings of power and privilege lead the farm into and self-inflicted oppressive abyss. Animals clash with farmers for animals sake; a sake quickly forgotten,as animals raise hooves to their own kind and assert their will. Eventually, the audience is left to decide whether the animals are better off under Mr. Jones’s lash.
Quasimondo’s fiendish hands always find a way to twist something really bizarre and visually interesting out of whatever they touch. The characters of Animal Farm are largely portrayed by hand-mended puppets, angular, almost Gothic, almost disfigured. They interact with the human farmers neighboring Animal Farm, initially with hostility as they ward of Jones, Pilkington, Wymper and Frederick. In the course of farm-making, some animals become “more equal that others” and endeavor more amicable relations with humans.
Damn, Critical, Acclaim
Animal Farm is set literally in a barn house, befitting a production that includes choreographed puppeteering, and short individual interpretive movement scenes capturing the ethos and pathos of personified animals. In fact, much of the play’s action relies more on interpretive movement than dialog.
At times the choreographed scenes featuring movements of the entire farm stock appear slightly off-kilter and overshadow individual efforts of the ensemble members’ to magnetize the audience. In other places, well-blocked vignettes transition and summarize parts of the plot without explicit telling of what’s going-on .
Quasimondo first-timers Danielle Levings and Jordan Moran both standout in this right. Leving’s extraordinarily focused stage presence provides a consistently driven character in Clover as she tries with all good intentions to keep the moral fabric of Animal Farm from tearing.
Similarly, Moran‘s portrayal of Benjamin, while limited in part by the tertiary importance of his character in the story, takes every opportunity to make a subtle impressions of quality on the audience. Emma Kate as Mollie also has moments of individual brilliance, tussling with the choice of creature comforts bestowed on a show horse and freedom.
A live music ensemble of upright bass, guitar, banjo, drums, and other noise making props accompanies the drama dutifully, providing original score and timely sound cues composed and performed by Ben Yela, Wylie Hefti, Eston Bennet, and Eddie Chapman.
Animal Farm is basically a heavy-handed story by an author with one of the heaviest-hands in literature, George Orwell. Quasimondo succeeds overall in taking a literary mainstay with a direct and clear agenda, and drawing-out artistic awnings to shade the audience from some of the glaring political overtones deliberately charging the story.
In some places, Rott grinds his own axes at the risk of nicking his blade on some audience members. This is theater though, rarely put on stage to sooth nerves. The play runs just short of three hours so there is a lot to see and digest. Some acts get a little jumbled when the direction exceeds the execution of the cast. Despite this, Quasimondo represents itself well once again.
Technical credits go to Posey Knight and Andy Walsh (Scenic Design), Edward Winslow (Lighting Design) and Andrew Parchman (Puppet Design).
Quasimondo’s adaption of Animal Farm has a few performances left this week beofre closing. You can see the play tonight Thursday July10, or July 11, 12, 13 all at 8pm on Trimborn Farm 8881 W. Grange in Greenfield (just West of Sourthridge Mall) and is worth a nice evening out in a pastoral corner of the county, catching your mood for a night of experimental theater.
Correction: George Orwell is the author of Animal Farm. Must be secretly craving some hardcore alien Sci-Fi.