Major Arcana’s production of Animal Farm, Directed by Andrew Hughes, opens on April 5th. And it is well worth the time to go see it. It stands out from other Major Arcana shows for a few reasons: the set up, the time, and the acting. The set up of the Marren Studio theater is a first in my four years here: audience platforms on three sides of the stage, with action predominantly taking place in the middle, however there are some scenes that really bring the side audience members into the action, as actors deliver lines from the audience platforms. This show also stands out as it is relatively short, and without an intermission.
The real stand out of this show is the acting. All the actors have to play multiple characters. These characters, being predominantly animals, all have different physicalities and personalities. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a rehearsal to write this preview. I can say that the actors were incredible, since I didn’t even need to see costume changes to understand the changing characters.
As far as plot goes, I will be honest: I never read the book in high school. I knew the basics: Stalinism with animals. But the way the plot unfolds is truly chilling. Certain characters are so loveable and sympathetic, I had actual tears of sadness when some of them died. Two of the most sympathetic characters were Boxer the carthorse (played by Fred Pienkoski) and Clover (played by Meghan Lees). I was rooting for these characters to succeed, and every time they were set back in their goals, it made my heart ache. Lees’ final scene, while she sits there humming mournfully, is so incredibly powerful and broke my heart.
There are some really interesting themes of change brought up just in the way scenes are played. The way the rules are slowly morphed and changed (written in chalk on the back wall of the theater), is beautiful and clever (and honestly a little terrifying). I was also really fond of the way the song “Beasts of England” was altered and morphed throughout the show. From hope to fear to despair, this song managed to cover every mood shift in the whole show.
A couple actors who really stood out from the rest were Maggie Flower and Megan Hill. Squealer the pig (played by Megan Hill) managed to be an imposing figure, despite the actor’s small stature. By appearing on risers or climbing on blocks, Hill managed to make this character an ever present threat to anyone who dared oppose the pigs’ rule of the farm. Maggie Flower, on the other hand, managed to make every one of her characters memorable and impressive. While looking over my notes post show, I realized that I had made a note about how memorable all of her characters were, and how they were all so distinctly different, and she managed to change her physical performance flawlessly.
The limited set and prop elements that I did see were very well used and kept the show visually interesting the entire way through, adding the other technical elements will surely make the whole show incredible to watch.
In conclusion: go see this production, as it is stunning, even without the technical elements. The themes are easy to understand without beating you over the head with it, and the actors are so talented. Tickets are free, on a first come first serve basis, so show up early if you want tickets (I advise about an hour before the show starts, see posters for details). Although, do be advised that this show does include: a prop gun, loud sound effects, and death. It is a phenomenal show, and the actors are so talented that come curtain call, you will be wishing there was more.