A Noise Within premiered a chilling production of Peter Hall’s musical adaptation of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” this week. In our times of disinformation and talk of democracy teetering on the brink, Orwell’s satire feels all too timely and real.
We first meet a gaggle of animals on Manor Farm, run by an oppressive Farmer Jones, as they are planning a rebellion to fight for equality for all. Written as a response to the rise of Stalin after the Russian revolution, Orwell’s tale lays bare what happens to idealism in the face of power and greed. The animal rebellion is led by the idealistic pig, Snowball, and the animals successfully run off Mr. Jones and take over the farm. All goes swimmingly at first with weekly meetings where votes are held and everyone works for the greater good. But as they face food shortages, human threats and the rise of dissention and misinformation, the wily, ambitious pig Napoleon takes advantage of the situation and begins to sow the seeds of doubt and eventually seizes control, casting Snowball out.
A Noise Within always takes us on a journey, and with this production we are taken to what feels like a depression era barn revival replete with an extraordinary two-man orchestra on stage. The Rod Bagheri music direction is brought to dramatic heights by musicians David Catalan and Nathan Johnson. Angela Balogh Calin has outdone herself with the innovative animal costumes using clever walking sticks to represent their four legs and fantastic Tony Valdés wig design representing manes. Balogh Calin also designed the barn/farm set which, along with the musicians on stage and the haunting Ken Booth lighting, all creates a very dark, subversive Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht feel.
The performances are fantastic led by the charismatic Rafael Goldstein who makes a slickly sinister Napoleon. Stanley Andrew Jackson III is magnetic as the idealistic leader Snowball which contrast nicely with Goldstein, setting up their eventual conflict. Geoff Elliott is a noble workhorse, Boxer, whose loyalty and trust of Napoleon brings about a heartbreaking result. Elliot, who also has a turn as the wise Old Major, gives Boxer just the right amount of sincere glee at the thought of everything working out if he only works harder, that the audience truly invests in him, just as the animals do. Trisha Miller is commanding as Squealer, right hand to Napoleon tasked with convincing the animals that what they are seeing is well, not what they are seeing. And so the disinformation campaign begins.
Deborah Strang is a sweet and loyal friend to Boxer who tries to get him to remember the ideals they were fighting for. The lovely Nicole Javier is heartbreaking as Mollie, the horse who actually misses her humans and sings a poignant song about being brushed and wearing ribbons in her mane. The rest of the stellar cast is rounded out by Philicia Saunders as Murial the goat, Jeremy Rabb as Benjamin the donkey, Sedale Threatt Jr. as Cat/Mr. Pilkington/hen, and Cassandra Marie Murphy as the raven and others.
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott deftly directs her small but mighty cast, utilizing them as multiple characters while using the space in fantastically theatrical ways. It is a thoroughly entertaining, albeit disturbing ride!
“Animal Farm” runs through October 2 at A Noise Within located at 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107.
Tickets start at $25. Student tickets start at $18. To purchase tickets and for more information, including up-to-date Covid-19 safety protocols on the date of each performance, call (626) 356-3100 or go to www.anoisewithin.org.