Animal Farm Review - Power and Propaganda

An allegorical novella first published in England in 1945, ANIMAL FARM was described by author George Orwell as “a satirical tale against Stalin.” In “Why I Write,” Orwell indicated that his goal in the book was “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” Fresh from the Spanish Civil War, Orwell wrote ANIMAL FARM between 1943 and 1944, when England was in a WW II alliance with Russia. Orwell clearly considered Russia’s Great Experiment in Communism with a jaundiced eye. The novel proved to be controversial and attained significant popularity when the “Cold War” emerged between the USSR and the West. In fact, both ANIMAL FARM and “1984” were on the list of books forbidden in the Eastern Bloc until the end of Communist rule in 1989.

Lea Madda, Holly Hawk, Thad Geer, and Jacquelin Schofield - Photo by Liam Flanders

This slyly satirical look at nineteenth century politics has been presented in film, radio, and the theater. In 1984, British director Sir Peter Hall adapted the novel to the stage, incorporating Adrian Mitchell’s clever lyrics with Richard Peaslee’s music to yield a rollicking but also deadly serious study of power, propaganda, and corruption. It only makes sense that Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, with its roots in the 1950’s McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklist, should be the perfect setting for ANIMAL FARM.

Lauren Zbylski, Jordann Zbylski, and Bethany Koulias - Photo by Liam Flanders

The animal residents of the Manor Farm, owned by the uncaring and malevolent Mr. Jones (Steve Fisher), realize that they must rise up against Farmer Jones’ oppression – and the opporession of all humans – in order to gain rights and equality. Led by the idealistic pig Snowball (Christopher Yarrow), the rebellion is successful. They rename their home ANIMAL FARM; and they achieve contentment and happiness. Things couldn’t be better – until another pig Napoleon (Mark Lewis) and his second-in-command Squealer (Melora Marshall) decide that Snowball is a traitor; and they will take over the government and improve everything.

(front) Melora Marshall, Clarence Powell, Thad Geer, Christopher Yarrow, Mark Lewis, Jessica Gillette and (back) Sky Wahl, Holly Hawk, and Evangeline Edwards - Photo by Liam Flanders

Based on Orwell’s views of Stalin and Communist Russia, things begin to deteriorate from there. Even with the constant, back-breaking labor of Boxer (Mark Lawrence), the horse with an engine that never runs out of steam. With music and lyrics cleverly interwoven into the story, ANIMAL FARM is a cunning picture of past and future in the political arena. The underlying tale will surely appeal to adults, while the kiddies will gleefully welcome all those cute farm denizens.

Lea Madda, Katherine Griffith, and Max Lawrence - Photo by Liam Flanders

Director Ellen Geer masterfully helms ANIMAL FARM with the able assistance of an enthusiastic and skilled cast. This is a production which must tip its hat to costume designer Vicki Conrad, wardrobe supervisor Beth Glasner, and properties master Ernest McDaniel. Each competent specialist manages to bring the fantastic to the stage with seeming effortlessness. Animal movement coordinator Lexi Pearl adds to the overall ambiance with an eye to making Orwell’s animals seem all too human.

Sierra Rose Friday and Shane McDermott - Photo by Liam Flanders

ANIMAL FARM runs through October 1, 2017, with performances on Saturdays at 3:30 p.m. (8/12, 8/26, 9/23) and 7:30 p.m. (8/19, 9/2, 9/23) and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. (8/6, 9/17) and 7:30 p.m. (9/10, 10/1). Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. Tickets range from $25 to $38.50 with discounts for seniors, students, military, veterans, teachers, and AEA members. For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online

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