Yorktown High School Animal FarmBy Cappies • May 2nd, 2007 • Category: Cappies
The entire auditorium was transformed into a farm, with straw scattered in the aisles, a milling crowd of animals clustered on the stage, and a giant sign brandishing the name of “Manor Farm” over the audience’s heads; Yorktown High was performing Animal Farm, adapted by Nelson Bond from the novel by George Orwell. Orwell published Animal Farm in 1945 as a criticism of Stalin’s corruption, each character representing a specific historical figure or a generalized group.
The show begins with an eerie image of Farmer Jones’ tyranny over the animals until they are incited to rebellion by Old Major, a dying pig espousing “animalism.” The words on the sign become “Animal Farm”; three pigs – Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer – begin teaching the other animals to read, and the animals bring in the harvest by themselves. By intermission, however, Napoleon has gained sole control, and life for the animals is fast deteriorating.
Yorktown combined realistic animal qualities with underlying meaning to present an enjoyable and engaging production. Each cast member fully assumed their animal role and paid enormous attention to details such as scratching, shifting, and quirky gaits, with subtle adjustments to these as the plot progressed and emotions changed. The pigs and humans conveyed the sinister authority behind their actions, while the other animals understood the despair of their situation.
John Houston presented an amazingly sympathetic Boxer; Houston made the horse’s unwavering devotion to work and to Napoleon endearing. He maintained a strong characterization with consistent movements and speech, and added humor to the show while providing the emotional climax. Napoleon and Squealer (Matt Bloch and Louisa DeButts) convincingly showed the evolution of the pigs into humans.
While delivery was occasionally monotone, each significant speech was accented with pauses and stutters that emphasized the characterization. Group scenes were well organized and visually interesting; the energy level was maintained by the ensemble. The simple costumes turned cast members into animals without any unintended humorous effect; actors interacted naturally with the wooden extensions of their arms. Masks worn by the human characters not only played a significant role at the end of the show, but also allowed the animals and humans to be equally abstract.
Despite a few instances where the animal crowd noises detracted from the central speaker, actors were always easily audible, without any unreal quality from microphones. Spotlights were occasionally distracting; regular stage lighting succeeded in emphasizing important poses and tableaus, while monochromatic backlighting held power over the mood. The running crew had difficult changes, often in plain view, but carried them out unobtrusively, and these changes to the small, mobile set helped set an effective pace for the show.
Animal Farm is a difficult play, requiring attention to political and social background, as well as an ability to convincingly portray animal characters, and Yorktown meets these challenges. Their production is highly successful on multiple levels, and it is not merely the unresolved ending that makes the audience wish for more.
by Sarah Danly of St. Andrew’s.
This review was written by a Cappies high school critic. The Cappies were founded in 1999, for the purpose of celebrating high school theater arts and providing a learning opportunity for theater and journalism students. You can learn more at cappies.com.
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