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Theater Review: A Precautionary, Timeless Tale At TheatreWorks

Published: May 12, 2017

NEW MILFORD — Recreating George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm of 1945 as a play seems a timely undertaking. Adapted by Ian Wooldridge and being directed at TheatreWorks New Milford by Kevin Sosbe, this playful and yet dark piece is a satirical take on authoritarianism and the vulnerability of those who allow it. Like a moving train, it is hard to stop once it gets rolling.

In the aftermath of a coup, incited by a moribund and bitter pig named Old Major (played by John Coleman Taylor), Farmer Jones (Rob Pawlikowski) is unceremoniously removed. The farm animals are now in charge. The previously united factions of pigs and horses tangle over leadership in the Battle of the Cowshed.

The more clever and aggressive pigs are the victors, and to them, the spoils. The complacent and trusting horses willingly submit. With reassurance that their care and feeding will be provided with the utmost consideration, they allow the pigs to take control of every aspect of their existence. Until it is too late. Pig leader Comrade Napoleon (Viv Berger), assisted by second in command Squealer (Sonnie Osborne), con their barnmates into believing they follow a strict code of honor and ethics. Ah, but no.

With the reins of power firmly in their clutches, they run roughshod over their constituents, caring not a hoof for the well-being they promised to provide.

This story has stood the test of time as its oft replicated circumstances are familiar. It resonates with audiences on both a small and frighteningly large scale.

In TheatreWorks New Milford’s current production, both the music and the beautifully staged and choreographed Battle of the Cowshed lend a dimension to the play that lightens its heavy message while driving it home. Choreographer Regina Sweeney is to be congratulated for her skill and creativity.

The performances of all the actors are physically and emotionally nuanced and charged. John Coleman Taylor is terrific as he opens the play with a dynamic monologue that foments the rebellion.

As the two turncoat pigs, Viv Berger and Sonnie Osborne are relentless and just terrific in their roles.

Actors rounding out the cast of four legged comrades include Alex Echevarria, Joan Wyner, Izzy Watson, Jocelyn Beard, and Jeff Miller as a sympathetic, overworked draw horse who is broken by the abusive workload and discord. His physicality and demeanor are moving.

Three young animals are tragically involved in the hardship and deception, played by James McGuinness, Adele Burke, and Lucy McKay.

A raven named Moses, both a sage and a prophet, is played by Terri Gatten, and a donkey named Benjamin is portrayed by Maxwell Diaz.

All actors are very good at capturing the subtle movements and sounds that make them animals and yet convey the greed and power they wield or the sorrow and helplessness that afflicts them.

The set, designed by Kevin Sosbe, is perfect. It is a simple interior of corrugated metal walls with a view of the hills in the distance through the sliding barn doors. Their one accomplishment, a windmill, is still.

As a cautionary tale and an accounting of what has been, the message of Animal Farm continues to be important. In keeping with the consistently professional and quality work produced at TheatreWorks New Milford, this piece succeeds.

Performances continue weekends to May 27. Curtain is Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday, May 13, at 2 pm, at 5 Brookside Avenue in New Milford.

Call 860-350-6863 or visit theaterworks.us for full details or reservations.

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