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Long Live the Animals!

Theater review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat May 6th, 2017

Cast of Animal Farm

Who is in charge? How should life’s political show be run? The current production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as adapted by Ian Woolridge at New Milford’s TheatreWorks puts these questions on stage with irony, satire, and bitter cynicism about the nature of politics. This revival of an old play freights contemporary resonance with its laughter. While the play in its original intent offers satire on the tyranny of Joseph Stalin and his propagandist Molotov, this production provides a contemporary twist, whereby Stalin turns into Trump and Molotov resembles Kellyanne Conway played by Sonnie Osborne, who turns in a dominating performance in this play. She turns her frail, physical frame into an intimidating mastermind of eloquent propaganda and astonishing fake news.

Viv Berger as Napoleon (the Stalin character) exudes the necessary cunning, sleaze, and ruthless corruption.  As the stalwart work-horse Boxer, Jeff Miller offers stoic grit and stubborn belief while earning our sympathy. Alex Echevarria as Strongman Pig Snowball provides convincing bullying. Young Izzy Watson as Mollie the young colt easily projects innocence, a wayward curiosity to explore sex, and a charming naiveté.  

Joan Wyner as the sow Minimus conjures pity and motherly sympathy. Maxwell Diaz as the donkey carries inflexible wisdom thoroughly ignored by all. The Raven Moses intoxicatingly projects the pie-in-the-sky delirium of evangelism. Adele Burke as the spotlight Story Teller conveys impassioned neutrality. The play’s prologue, delivered by John Coleman Taylor, as the Old Major remains a masterful role in perfect English diction that sets up high expectations fulfilled by the cast.  

Music plays a significant role with the cast adeptly singing solos and choral numbers. Director Kevin Sosbe (who has directed a stage version of Orwell’s 1984) displays a sure hand that deserves applause. As Sosbe says in the program: “In a way it’s refreshing that the animals seem to have more humanity than the humans.” Never mind the animals—human hypocrisy is our animalistic shame and “glorious” corruption. The Revolution’s list of Seven Commands soon becomes a mechanism of repression and emendation.  While the play moves inevitably toward the conclusion of a triumphant toast to the new smug corruption, Rob Pawlikowski  (who played the Tsar-like Farmer Jones) re-appears as a rich Russian neighbor thoroughly approving of advanced American tyranny and its propagandistic buffoonery.

With the theme of the windmill, Orwell was alluding to Don Quixote, windmills being a devilish Islamic invention that reduced labor, yet today the windmill has refurbished resonance in providing clean energy. While France, England, and Germany move toward self-sufficient clean energy, clean energy is often perceived to be a threat to our economic system wheras it actually provides jobs. The broken windmill carries con temporary symbolism.    

Costumes and sets are Spartan yet effective. Updated music tracks include Leonard Cohen, Pink Floyd, Gustav Holst, and John Lennon. This is not a play that will change your life, but it offers delicious amusement as it hammers the moral that human nature has not changed in the last ten thousand years. The production runs Friday to Sunday through the end of the month. Tickets are $23 and are available at 860-350-6863.