Theatricum Botanicum artistic director Ellen Geer makes great use of the bucolic splendor of the company’s spacious outdoor theater in this captivating staging of Peter Hall’s musical adaptation of George Orwell’s parable about the rise of Communist Russia, “Animal Farm.” A talented, thoroughly committed ensemble and the evocative animal costumes of Megan Alsop-Geer and Terry Hunter immensely aid Ellen Geer in the staging of Orwell’s 1943 work.
The action follows the rebellion of the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm, who are mistreated and abused by Farmer Jones (Thad Geer). The animals expel Jones and, under the idealistic guidance of Snowball the pig (Melora Marshall), form a collective society to run the renamed “Animal Farm.” Soon, the other pigs, led by opportunistic Napoleon (Jim LeFebvre) and his propaganda stooge Squealer (Aaron Hendry), oust Snowball and begin a systematic subjugation of the farm’s rank and file. Snowball’s Seven Commandments of animal equality are quickly replaced with the single edict, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Tom Allard is particularly effective as Boxer, the slow-witted but loyally steadfast draft horse who also happens to be the farm’s best worker. Whenever confronted with having to make decision for himself, he is satisfied to bray, “Napoleon is always right.” Allard is nicely counterbalanced by Willow Geer-Alsop’s Mollie, a vainglorious young mare who conveniently disappears whenever there is work to be done. Mollie eventually escapes, unable to resist the capitalistic pleasures beckoning her outside the confines of the farm’s restrictive society.
LeFebvre and Hendry are a hoot as the two oinkers who slowly insinuate themselves into power. Puffed up by his own ego and a great quantity of booze, LeFebvre’s Napoleon rejoices in his ascendancy to supreme leader with the vaudeville-esque tune “The Runt of the Litter Is Now the Leader of the Pack.” Hendry simply oozes oily prevarication and evasion as he constantly re-invents the rules of society on the farm.
The musical contributions of composer Richard Peaslee and lyricist Adrian Mitchell are rather minimal, serving more as pleasant accents to the proceedings rather than full-blown production numbers. The onstage accompaniment is handled quite nicely by pianist Louis Durra.