Animal Farm

By George Orwellsteppenwolf theatre

Adapted by Althos Low

Directed by Hallie Gordon

At Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre

Animal Farm’s depiction of a dictatorship wears out its message in a sluggish production

Steppenwolf’ for Young Adults series presents Orwell’s riff on dictatorship is a static and often confusing tale that almost needs to be read by students before seeing this stage version.

George Orwell’s 1945 novel, Animal Farm, is an allegorical and dystopian novel. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalin era in the Soviet Union. Orwell described Animal Farm as a satirical tale against Stalin and dictatorship in general. He uses imagery of farm animals to tell his cautionary tale of how socialism often morifs into a cult of personality that leads to one person rule.

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In Althos Low’s stage adaption of Animal Farm, we meet a man at his typewriter trying to create a story. Man (probable George Orwell) played by Will Allan explains to the audience is attempt to write a cautionary tale using farm animals. He becomes Benjamin, a donkey, as he dons a donkey mask. The other characters do like wise. There is a chicken, a cow, a mule and a pig among the assortment  of animals. After a few minutes, the sight of people wearing farm animal  masks wears thin and the story of these animals revolting from an unjust human farmer emerges. They adopt Seven Commandments of Animalism, the most important of which is, “All animals are equal.”

Snowball (Sean Parris)  and Napoleon (Blake Montgomery), assume command and consider it a duty to prepare for the Rebellion. Snowball teaches the animals to read and write, while Napoleon educates young puppies on the principles of Animalism. Food is plentiful, and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership and set aside special food items, ostensibly for their personal health. Napoleon and Snowball struggle for preeminence. When Snowball announces his plans to build a windmill, Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball away and subsequently declares himself leader of Animal Farm.

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After 90 minutes of action that often confuses many middle schoolers and high schoolers, I heard several students constantly asking their parents “I don’t understand what is happening?” The lesson of how democratic values can be corrupted by the quest for power. The youngsters learn that in life,  sometimes the bad guy wins that unless we stand guard, evil can win the day. They learn that change is good but it must be tempered with  compassion and be aimed at the common good of all.

Unfortunately, this production is too wordy, too complex and too long to hold the targeted audience. Many said on their way out that the show was confusing and boring.  A trim of 15 minutes and a clearer storyline would serve the production well. Animal Farm works best for students who have read the novel so I advise teachers to get their students to read it before going to Steppenwolf to see this production.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. halsted, Chicago, IL, call 312-335-1650, www.steppenwolf.org, tickets $20 daily for students, public performances on Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 90 minuted without an intermission,through November 14, 2014