Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

Animal Farm
Duke City Repertory Theatre

Also see Dean's review of Mothers and Sons and Rob's review of The King and I


Ezra Colón, Merritt Glover, Josh Heard, Willis Miller, and Amelia Ampuero
They were a bunch of animals, through and through. Duke City Repertory Theatre (DCRT) disintegrated into childish pranks during the company's performance of All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth last December, and now they have degraded down to the level of beasts—horses, sheep, and worst of all, pigs. The troupe has taken its previous goofiness and ratcheted it up into pure rowdiness and roughhousing.

The occasion for the snorts and whinnies is Animal Farm, a theatrical take on George Orwell's 1945 novel adapted by Nelson Bond. Director Katie Becker Colon keeps the action at a high pitch, which was likely perfected during the production's weeks-long run in front of school audiences around the state. In all, DCRT performed before 1,100 kids before opening at the Cell. So the production landed at the Cell in great shape.

Animal Farm was Orwell's scathing critique of the Soviet Union. In the parody, the animals (workers) take over the farm, fighting off the drunken farmer (capitalists). At first, the rebelling animals insist on seven lofty principles such as "all animals are equal" and "no animal shall kill another animal." Over time, the pigs decide that some animals (pigs) are more equal than other animals, and the high-principled revolution begins to deteriorate. Soon, "lower" animals such as horses and donkeys are working longer hours for less food then they had during the reign of the farmer.

For those who follow Soviet history, Animal Farm tracks the Communist ideals as they came from Marx (Old Major) and fuel the revolution in Russia. The Bolshevik Communists try to put the ideals into practice after they overthrow the Russian Czar. But soon, the Bolshevik government exiles the revolutionary Trotsky (Snowball) because he resists the growing bureaucracy. Instead they install a leader (Napoleon) and power structure that benefits the bosses. The play emphasizes the mendacity and double-speak of party control. "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."

The rough and tumble of Colon's production is like a raucous ballet. Animals battle humans, animals battle each other, and the precision of the mayhem is impressive. We saw this same group skill in All I Want for Christmas. In the middle of it all, the actors switch characters, sometimes without changing costumes. The cast is able to move fluidly from character to character without confusion. This is business as usual for DCRT. They showed this same dexterity in A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Drowning Girls. This must be a talent essential to the group, since the actors have displayed this knack under more than one director.

The actors also shine in their animal vocalizations. These are not simple oinks and nays. Frank Taylor Green in particular makes some noises I didn't think possible from a human being. Ezra Colon is terrific as the evil Napoleon (Stalin), and Merritt Glover puts forward a heartbreaking horse. Amelia Ampuero, Josh Heard and Willis Miller are all wonderful.

The set by D'Vaughn Agu is a simple barn with crates that come in handy as speech podiums. For the actors the set serves as a jungle gym for pratfalls and high slapstick. The lighting by Chesapeake Dalrymple is effective as a device to move time along and indicate scene changes. The costumes by Gene Salgado (costume designer) and Veronica Castaneda (costume construction) work well as Romper Room outfits. The giant heads of the humans are bizarrely right.

Animal Farm, produced by the Duke City Repertory Theatre, is playing at the Cell Theatre at 700 1st. St. NW. Performances run Thursdays through Sundays through March 15. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances begin at 8:00 pm. Sunday performances begin at 2:00 pm. Adults are $22; seniors, military, and students are $14; children up to 17 are $7. Tickets for Thursday, March 12 are $12 for everyone but kids whose tickets are $7. For reservations, go to dukecityrep.com or call 797-7082.


Photo: Rick Galli

--Rob Spiegel


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