Review: ‘Animal Farm’ at Baltimore Center Stage

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Breathing renewed life into a 72-year old literary classic is no easy task, but Baltimore Center Stage embraces the challenge, presenting George Orwell’s Animal Farm with well-defined verve and resonant potency.

Melvin Abston and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart in Animal Farm. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Nimbly adapted by Ian Woodbridge, the 90-minute production, proficiently paced by Director May Adrales, packs a powerful punch, effectively underscoring Orwell’s politically-charged, cautionary tale of corruption by gamely delving into a searing narrative of idealism betrayed by a thirst for personal power.

Accentuated with smart staging brought to life by the innovative artistic team of Scenic Designer Andrew Boyce, Costume Designer Izumi Inabi, Lighting Designer Noele Stollmack, Composers/Sound Designers Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes, and Movement Director Nancy Lemenager, the versatile eight-member cast seamlessly pulls double and triple duty, using music, schematic movement, and puppet-like masks to deliver evocatively visceral performances that are compelling and impactful.

Jonathan Gillard Daly and Deborah Staples in Animal Farm. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Opening with a brutally-pointed scene in a stark factory farm set against a gritty backdrop of grimy white tile, punctuated with harsh fluorescent lighting, a team of exhausted animals are whipped and pitted against one another by their overseer, Farmer Jones. This sets the stage for an imminent revolution, an eventual overthrow and establishment of a new order. In the aftermath, the pigs (who are considered the most intelligent of the animals) are put in charge. However, the pigs stealthily exploit and dupe the other animals with clever manipulation and inventive threats from the outside.

Each of the talented ensemble shined in their respective roles. Tiffany Rachelle Stewart as the smooth-talking Squealer was particularly memorable, broadcasting periodic updates from the pigs’ administration after dictator-like leader Napoleon (an authoritative and commanding Melvin Abston) mandates a sanction of public meetings and forums.

Likewise, Stephanie Weeks stood out as the strong but susceptible workhorse Boxer, as did Deborah Staples as Clover, the emotionally-charged carthorse. Also impressive were Jonathan Gillard Daly’s rendering of Benjamin the donkey and Brendan Titley’s performance of Snowball; both were engaging in their nuanced depictions. Similarly, Francis Cabatac and Surasree Das nicely rounded out the cast with a dash of humor in their role as sheep.

Though over seven decades have passed, perhaps, a refresher of Orwell’s allegorical novella through a contemporary theatrical lens may promote open discussion, precipitate critical thinking and lead to productive change for the equality of all.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

Animal Farm plays through April 1, 2018 at Baltimore Center Stage —700 North Calvert Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 332-0033, or purchase them online.