2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Animal Farm to Table’ at The Renegade Company

Animal Farm to Table isn’t like any other show in the Fringe Festival. The show, conceived and directed by Mike Durkin for The Renegade Company, is performed on an actual (but small) working farm just a few blocks above Temple University in North Philadelphia. Instead of sitting and watching the actors, you’ll spend an hour or so walking around the farm, interacting with them, and even helping them pick peppers and herbs.

It’s far removed from a standard formal theatrical experience, but Animal Farm to Table is a show that makes a lot of serious points while maintaining a sly sense of humor.

When you enter the gathering space at the south end of the Urban Creator’s Farm, you’ll be greeted by the various farm workers. As you walk around, they’ll engage you in discussions about how food issues affect Philadelphians – including the preponderance of pesticides and processed food, and how what most Philadelphians think of as “locally grown” food is actually grown a hundred miles away.

It’s all quite provocative, and you’ll be drawn into some serious discussions. And the performances are all so natural and engaging that you may forget at times that you’re dealing with actors.

Shamus Hunter McCarty and Lesley Berkowitz-Zak. Photo by Daniel Kontz.

Shamus Hunter McCarty and Lesley Berkowitz-Zak. Photo by Daniel Kontz.

But slowly the characters’ distinct personalities start to emerge. Those characters include Leon (Doug Greene), the farm’s leader, who spends his time meditating while others do the dirty work; his hippie girlfriend Molly (Lisa Fischel), who seems more interested in growing her consciousness than in growing eggplant; their assistant Squealer (Shamus Hunter McCarty); and Bonnie (Lesley Berkowitz-Zak), a single mom who is starting to chafe under Leon’s control.

The first half of the show ends with Leon and Molly leading everyone in a singalong. But within moments, the mood is a lot less harmonious. It turns out that the farm has been served with an eviction notice. Before long, the tensions between the laid-back leaders and the more practical staffers boil over. Is Leon a peace-loving guru, or is he a heartless dictator?

The show’s title may give you an answer. Animal Farm to Table was partly inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and its characters have parallels to Orwell’s characters. (Leon is based on the novel’s piggish leader Napoleon, and Squealer is based on, well, Squealer.) Unfortunately, due in part to its short running time, the plot of Animal Farm to Table isn’t as well-developed as it could be. The story stops short just as it’s starting to get interesting, and is never fully resolved.

Yet you won’t feel shortchanged by this one-of-a-kind show. It’s absorbing and thought-provoking, with a keen sense of intelligence and insight. And as you eat a vegan meal with the cast afterwards, you’ll have a chance to discuss some of the food issues the show raises.

The design is understated and convincing, with costumes (by Jamie Grace-Duff) and props (by Sara Outing) that help to create an urban, organic ambiance.

Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, including the meal at the end of the performance.

Animal Farm to Table plays from September 8-18, 2016 at The 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival performing at Urban Creator’s Farm – 11th and Dauphin Streets, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 413 1318, or purchase them here.

LINKS:
2016 Philadelphia FringeArts Preview: Exploring Food Culture with Applied Mechanics and The Renegade Company by Deb Miller.

Renegade Company’s Mike Durkin on ‘Animal Farm to Table’ at the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival by Henrik Eger.

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BEST OF THE 2016 PHILADELPHIA FRINGE!

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