‘Animal Farm’ at Luna Theater Company in Philadelphia

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Even though you probably read Animal Farm in high school, seeing Luna Theater Company’s Animal Farm will evoke a completely different sensory experience. The theatricality of the play offers the audience a unique experience different from the novel; being physically submersed within the renegade and the hypocrisy evokes a tension unreachable from only a text.

Isabella May, Sarah Knittel, Michelle Pauls, Katherine Perry, Tori Mittelman, and Kelly McCaughan.
Isabella May, Sarah Knittel, Michelle Pauls, Katherine Perry, Tori Mittelman, and Kelly McCaughan. Photo courtesy of Luna Theater Company.

Animal Farm Director and Luna’s Founding and Producing Artist Director Gregory Scott Campbell creates an intricacy and specificity of movement and character that makes this production unique. The animal instinct utilized in the creation of these characters is incredibly detailed, vocally, physically, and theatrically. Campbell creates those specificities, embodied well through the ensemble of actors. The way the multi-character casting was plotted was smart and appropriate. Characters switched onstage and it was so clear from their physicality and voice differentiations that it never distracted from the story.

The entirely female cast execute their multi-faceted performances with comfortability and enjoyment. Each actor plays several characters, clearly indicated by their physicality and vocal distinction. It’s the little things that make the performances distinctive: the hard breathing out and whinnying of the horses in the middle of lines and the hands of the pigs separated at the middle and ring finger in a Star Trek-like fashion, referencing their hooves.

Tori Mittelman’s performance of the revolt leader Napoleon has a clear through line and development that drives the show entirely, with help from her perfectly psychotic mouthpiece Squealor (Michelle Pauls). Isabella Fehlandt specifically executes all of her characters convincing, my favorite being the subversive horse Molly. She plays a huge variety, from Moses the Raven to Pilkington the farmer-next-door, and clearly has a specific voice, face alteration, and backstory for each.

The rest of the talented Animal Farm cast included fine performances from Katherine Perry (Boxer), Kelly McCaughan (Clover), and Sarah Knittel (Snowball/Benjamin).

 Isabella May, Michelle Pauls, Kelly McCaughan and Katherine Perry. Photo courtesy of Luna Theater Company.
Isabella May, Michelle Pauls, Kelly McCaughan and Katherine Perry. Photo courtesy of Luna Theater Company.

Scenic design by Dirk Durossette is a forced perspective unit set, giving the ability to change time and place easily. It was just the right amount of literal, with bales of hay throughout, and abstract, geometric and eye catching shapes, for the world where pigs make the rules. A simple light plot of mostly LEDs gives way to a malleable and deliberate lighting design by John Allerheiligen. Specifically the use of the scrim in the windows of the house in conjunction with the upstage lighting allows for shadow acting in perfectly selected scenes, a good example of the clear collaboration happening at Luna.

The costumes are humanoid pieces constructed in intelligent ways referencing the animals, but only when you look closely, such as two buns on the top of the head to reference the pigs’ ears. While I wish there was maybe more references to the animal being played, I also understand almost all of the actors play multiple characters and the need to be malleable, including switches onstage, which was well utilized for this show.

Animal Farm creates a new set of rules in this world they create onstage. With its solid performances, specificity, and clear direction, I recommend you take a trip down to 8th and Bainbridge to see Luna Theater Company’s powerful and stunning Animal Farm. 

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

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Animal Farm plays through November 7, 2015 at Luna Theater Company – 620 South 8th Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office  at (215) 704-0033, or purchase them online.

RATING: FOUR-AND-A-HALF-STARS11.gif