Animal Farm | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Animal Farm


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ANIMAL FARM, Bailiwick Reper-tory. In 1983 British director Peter Hall offered a story-theater adaptation of George Orwell's 1945 fable about farm animals who expel their human master only to wind up enslaved by a cabal of clever pigs. Bolstered by the Brecht/Weill-influenced songs of Richard Peaslee and Adrian Mitchell, Hall's rendition turned this allegory of communist Russia's decline into dictatorship into a didactic children's show for grown-ups. With its cast transformed into bent-backed beasts by crutchlike attachments that turn arms into forelegs, Bailiwick's production has a rustic, homemade quality nicely suiting the concept; David Zak's staging begins with a preteen narrator reading aloud from a book (unfortunately Matthew Brennan's shrill voice and immature articulation tend to get lost in the sprawling theater).

But the stage version lacks one of its brilliant source's distinguishing marks: the leanness with which it charts the rise and fall of a utopian dream. What could have been thrilling in one act is tedious in two. Padded with songs and slowed by too much narration, the tale feels heavy-handed; the animal imitations, while clever, soon grow predictable; the music lacks the melodic edge that made Peaslee's Marat/Sade score so memorable. And while the animal allegory gives the story universality, the play's dated by the fact that Orwell and Hall were both specifically addressing the oppressive evil of Soviet Russia. Five years after the empire's collapse, Animal Farm works as a cautionary intellectual reminder but lacks the outrage that would give the story emotional impact.

--Albert Williams

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