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The Rep’s ‘Animal Farm’ is worthy of Orwell
Book’s post-World War II themes ring current in some ways


By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

January 18, 2018


“Animal Farm” cast members, from left, Deborah Staples, Kelsey Rodriguez, Stephanie Weeks, Brade Bradshaw and Jonathan Gillard Daly. The Milwaukee Rep will put on the play to Feb. 11.
Michael Brosilow

For some strange reason, human beings, despite their history, often continue to believe that somehow they can eliminate greed, inequality, poverty, sickness and all injustices and create the perfect Utopian society. Ah, our incredible credulity lives on.

“Animal Farm” at the Milwaukee Rep opens on a relatively sparse stage as we witness animals engaged in grunt work. Suddenly a commanding figure comes down the aisle and speaks to a rapt audience - the animals on stage and us.

The Major, eloquent and impassioned, urges the animals to start a revolution in which animals, instead of humans, lead. The Major is powerfully portrayed by Stephanie Weeks.

The whole production, adapted by Ian Woolridge, speaks the universal truths that, though George Orwell’s allegory was a satire on the Soviet Union, in any society there will always be power struggles, turncoats, the changing of rules to accommodate those in power, deceptions and, in the end, despite the original attempts to create a better life for all, there will always be those “who are more equal than others.”

Woolridge’s translation, so artfully directed by May Adrales, is creatively enacted by eight actors who play all the roles. 

With the use of masks and puppet-like representations of animals, the characters, through carefully choreographed movements and sounds (Nancy Lemenager), distinctly show the similarity between humans and animals.

Boxer, the almost-illiterate horse (also played by Weeks), represents the unquestioning follower. She believes everything Napoleon (Melvin Abston), their porcine leader, says.  Snowball (Brendan Titley), who once shared the leadership position with Napoleon, eventually deserts in frustration. Clover, so sensitively portrayed by Deborah Staples, and Benjamin (Jonathan Gillard Daly), both question the changes that Napoleon is making. They represent the protesters when the authorities are engaging in immoral practices of lying and cheating and abandoning the contract that all initially agreed upon.

The last major character (Tiffany Rachelle Steward) is a vain pig who knows how to mooch up to the leaders to get what she wants. There will always be sycophants among us who know how to play the game. Stewart was the only member of the cast who was difficult to hear at times.

The 90-minute uninterrupted drama was powerful and provocative. I kept discovering congruities with today’s society - the false promises, the lust for power, the inequalities, the disparities between words and actions.

We are still capable of being bamboozled by those who promise us the moon. It is even suggested by Orwell that religion can also be used to make people put up with many injustices, for they will be rewarded in the next life.  Despite the overriding evidence that humans have committed atrocities throughout history, we still want to believe that mankind is capable of nobility and goodness (which, of course, it is). We still continue to believe that our leaders will make our lives better, though they seldom do. They overwhelmingly act out of self-interest.

Maybe it is hope that makes life bearable. That seems to be the dominant message here, but that is not the overriding feeling with which one leaves the theater. It’s a very worthy production.
 

AT A GLANCE
“Animal Farm”

The play runs through Feb. 11 at the Milwaukee Rep, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Call 414-224-9490 or visit www.milwaukeerep.com for times and tickets.