By Jason Fontelieu
Frustrated with their poor standard of living, the animals of Manor Farm decide they’ve taken orders from mankind for too long. They rise up and overthrow their repressive farmer in hopes of a new society where all animals are equal. But when the pigs of the farm begin to treat the other animals similarly to how man did, the cycle of inequality persists.
Baltimore Center Stage’s “Animal Farm” is based on the George Orwell novel of the same name. “Animal Farm” is a thoughtful narrative that questions the very nature of those who rule us, especially poignant during the Russian Revolution and its repercussions in the early 20th century.
The show was armed with a talented cast, unafraid to double as main characters and ensemble members, fluidly transforming between different animals and leaning into the role of each animal with guttural noises and authentically animalistic mannerisms.
Melvin Abston stars as the leader of the pigs, Napoleon. With a surprisingly limited amount of stage time, his presence is strengthened by his booming voice and solid posture to give the aura of a wise, commanding leader. This gives credibility to Napoleon’s name being used for many of the farm’s added decrees.
Tiffany Rachelle Stewart delivers the most memorable performance of the show, doubling in her brief stint as the sassy horse Mollie, and Napoleon’s swine sidekick, Squealer. As Mollie, her quick wit and unwavering defiance make her a likable character, and especially believable by her neighing and tail-fluttering, even though she’s not speaking. As Squealer, the deliverer of news from the almighty Napoleon, every line is nasally and obnoxiously loud.
Deborah Staples plays Clover the horse, a motherly figure who watches from the sideline as the society built around her begins to crumble. Originally wanting to believe in Napoleon and the other pigs, she doubts herself every time she may have reason to question the authority. A minor character throughout, she emerges in significance by the end as she tragically realizes the truth of the pigs’ corruption after it’s too late. Staples maintains her body language and soft-spoken demeanor, even as Clover builds confidence in herself and resistance to her rulers, which makes her the character to be empathized with the most.
The costumes perfectly capture the mood of the show. Rather than appearing as literal animals, the characters were dressed in tattered, white clothing with dirt slathered over their bodies and faces, representing prisoner-like figures. The subtle changes in costume are profoundly indicative of the pigs’ evolution into the role of man, as they begin dressing more like humans, one piece at a time, showing their gradual descent into corruption.
This rendition of “Animal Farm” proved a memorable performance can be put on with less pizzaz. They prove talent goes much further than flashy props and materials.
“Animal Farm” will play at Baltimore Center Stage through April 1.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Flickr account.
Jason Fontelieu is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org