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First Stage Explores Political Lies in Orwell's 'Animal Farm'

May. 16, 2017
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Photo credit: Paul Ruffolo

Director Matt Daniels helms a strikingly well-balanced Animal Farm for First Stage’s Young Company. Based on George Orwell’s classic political allegory, young actors play animals that have taken over the farm stage in cleverly minimalist iconography. The pigs wear pigtails and the armbands of party leaders. The horses wear cowboy hats and ponytails. The dogs wear collars and dog tags. Sheep have long, curly hair and cheerleader skirts. All the animals wear a preternaturally innocent white.

With costumes being more iconic than representational, much of the task of delivering the right barnyard atmosphere falls on the actors. There’s as much attention paid to silence and stillness as there is to the noises, motion and commotion of a small farm. Too much activity would feel forced. Not enough activity and the atmosphere wouldn’t be present. The set also scrapes together a vivid world out of very little. Watering cans serve as microphones and mugs. Wooden crates and an umbrella cleverly come together to form a windmill.

The political drama of the story comes across with well-rendered performances. Jake Badovski, Mary Jensik and Sydney Salter play the ruling pigs with sympathetic depth. Rather than playing them as sinister villains, the three play the pigs as politicians who really seem to want to believe the lies that they’re telling the rest of the farm. Alex Salter puts in an inspiring performance as Clover, a horse who senses the growing hypocrisy of those in power but lacks the right momentum to halt the inevitable.

Through May 21 at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, 325 W. Walnut St. For tickets, call 414-267-2961 or visit firststage.org.

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