Last night, I was transported into a thrilling world of animation. After successful runs in Australia, London, China, and Dubai, 1927 brought The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, their original play, to The Studio Theatre. The acting was impressive, and the set design was like nothing I had ever seen in a theatrical production.
Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade, the story takes place in a run-down neighborhood called Bayou. Three narrators open the play with a description of a boarding house in the neighborhood, which was full of criminals and cockroaches. However, the largest fear among the tenants are the children, who run wild at night. While the government plans to deal with the situation through sedation candies, newcomer Agnes Eaves hopes to save the children through her art school. The play stars three actresses (Suzanne Andrade, Esme Appleton, and Lillian Henley) who play multiple characters throughout the production.
The set consists of three screens that form a semi-circle around the back of the stage. I was unsure about the lack of set in the beginning, but it soon became clear that Paul Baritt, the Film and Animation Designer, is a genius. The screens represent everything in the play other than the three actors, which includes buildings – the boarding house, and even the wild children. I found the movement of the designs intriguing, including the elevator in the beginning of the play. As the narrator describes the different tenants in the boarding house, she stands in a window that is surrounded by an animated elevator, which moves around her as if she was entering different rooms in the house. The most impressive design is Agnes Eaves’ daughter Evie. While Agnes is a live actress, her daughter is a computer design that followes her through the screens and interacts with Agnes and other actors on stage.
Andrade cleverly incorporates the animation into his staging. For example, whenever a character goes to bed, the actress is placed behind a screen that presents an animated bed. The other screens on stage then project a room turned on its side, as if the actress was lying down rather than standing up. The animation combined with staging helped increases the absurdity of the action, and as a result, makes the scene more interesting to watch.
The three actresses each play multiple roles, which is particularly impressive because they manage to make each character distinct. Esme Appleton (Agnes) creates a cheery and optimistic character that believes her art projects can save the children’s souls. In the very next scene however, she plays the creepy and evil Zelda who dreams of starting a revolution among the children. I was impressed by her ability to quickly switch between roles and convey both characters.
I also really enjoyed James Addie’s performance as the Caretaker. Addie acted as the narrator for the character, but the Caretaker was silent, thus forcing the actor to rely on his physical movements to convey his character. His physicality was brilliant and hilarious. The narration mostly consisted of describing the unfortunate details of the Caretaker’s life – his loneliness, and his low salary that made it nearly impossible to raise enough money to leave Bayou. Addie, however, acted out these scenes in outlandish ways that made them fun to watch, and made it easy for me to connect to the character.
Because the animation and acting are so creative and strong. the plot, unfortunately, is a little weak. While the writing is amusing and full of dark humor, it lacks dramatic action, which made me lose interest during some of the scenes.
Creative and energetic, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is like nothing I had ever seen before. Through the combination of multi-media and live performance, 1927 succeeds in creating a refreshingly new theatrical experience with their visually stunning The Animals and Children Took to the Streets.
Running time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets plays through Sunday July 1 at 1927 – at the Studio Theatre – 1501 14th St NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.