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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Quasimondo’s ‘Animal Farm’

Deliciously uncomfortable barnyard theater

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George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a startlingly concise political drama that stands as one of the great works of 20th-century fiction. The Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre enters the heart of summer with a stage adaptation of the drama.

The site-specific production asserts itself at Trimborn Farm. The action starts just outside the barn. A charismatically disheveled Ben Yela appears as the drunken farmer, Mr. Jones. After a brief introduction with Mr. Jones and the animals (played here by puppets,) the audience is ushered into a barn where the majority of the action takes place.

The puppets lack some warmth. The ensemble provides enough emotional resonance to compensate for the stark soullessness of the animals. That being said, some of the barnyard puppets are quite charming, particularly Moses the tame raven as articulated by puppet designer Andrew Parchman. The most vivid characterizations in the ensemble are Emma Kate and Michael Guthrie as the horses. Emma Kate’s soulful and whimsical indifference to the politics of the farm is a counterpoint to Guthrie’s weighty presence as the workhorse hero, Boxer. Jessi Miller, Jeff Kriesel and Kirk Thomsen are suitably authoritarian as the revolutionary pigs whose ideals are criminally compromised by the end.

The physical space of the performance is not entirely comfortable. The puppets are not pretty. This is a bit of an ugly experience from quite a few different angles. At its best, though, it is deliciously uncomfortable. The tour of the farm on which the drama closes is a truly inspired kind of horror. It’s a stark reminder of where we have come as a society and how relevant Orwell’s work remains.

Quasimondo’s production of Animal Farm runs through July 14, at Trimborn Farm, 8881 W. Grange Ave., Greendale. For more information, visit www.thequasimondo.com.