Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Animal Farm at Trimborn Farm: Impressions

By Russ Bickerstaff
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There are always strange, little impressions of a theater show that don’t quite fit into the narrative of a standard theater review. These ancillary details are particularly numerous in shows that are staged outside the conventions of a traditional theater space. Staged as it is in and around an old barn, the Quasimondo’s production of Animal Farm is flooded with these little details that add to the production.

Much of the ancillary experience of going to see a show is idiosyncratic to the viewer. For me on opening night this included an opportunity to talk with another critic before the show and inadvertently sitting next to one of my favorite local actresses. It also included writing a rough of my print review of the drama by dictation in darkness while waiting for a bus to take me back to civilization. Okay, so some of this is only of personal interest, but there’s more here beyond my own personal experiences that are worth mentioning to those who might consider seeing the show. (And if you like theater, you should definitely consider seeing this show. It’s good.)

Location

The trip out to the farm has the sensation of entering another world. It’s on the Southwestern edge of my own internal map of Milwaukee County. The bus stops are few and far between. It’s a long walk from the nearest MCTS stop. Residences and businesses get more and more sparse on the way out to the farm. The effect isn’t quite the same by car, but the physical act of getting to the out-of-the-way space adds to the experience of seeing the show. There’s a feeling of reaching that place between civilization and something altogether less civilized.

Opening night had an interesting feel to it. The late afternoon sky was overcast. As the drama began there was some drizzle outside the barn. A few drops could be felt as Ben Yela (who played the farmer Jones) interacted with the animals outside the barn. We were all ushered into the barn shortly thereafter. Darkness had completely fallen by the end of the drama in so many ways. With few streetlights in the general area, it was a very bleak walk back to civilization beyond the unfriendly darkness of Greendale at night.

 
Immersion

The audience has plenty of room to spread out in the early going, but before long we’re all herded-up and moved into the barn. There’s a sense of unity there. A few actors move about greeting each other on the way in. In a nod to the inspiration behind Orwell’s original story, they greet each other as “comrade.” There’s a sense of revolution and discontent in the air.

Get into the barn and the animal puppets surround the audience. This is particularly apparent for those who sit along the edges of the performing space. Horses and dogs and pigs and chickens and things move about the shadows. There is the smell an old barn that doesn’t normally house animals of any kind anymore—let alone puppets. There’s a life about the place, but it feels pleasantly vacant. It fits the mood of the piece quite well.


The Way Out

There’s bug spray at the venue for those coming to the play. I had been told to beware of mosquitoes. I hadn’t been told that they would be relatively scarce until shortly after intermission. They seemed to be obeying a cue—suddenly there they were (all of them) in the barn along with the rest of us humans and animals and things. They knew to stay away from me, but I think I might have made eye contact with one of those mosquitoes. Weird.

A shadowy tour through the farm serves as the entry to Greendale’s unfriendly darkness beyond the end of the play. There are a series of different stations where we are introduced to the way of life on the farm at the end of the story. The use of an electric megaphone by one of the pigs lends chillingly to the atmosphere. One of the more memorable moments in theater this year: Standing around the interior audience “holding area” waiting for the end of the play while Danielle Levings (in costume as Clover the Cow) is forced to sing at the end of a cattle prod wielded by someone in a pig mask. This is deliciously disquieting theatre.

The Quasimondo’s production of Animal Farm runs through July 14 at Trimborn Farm on 8881 W. Grange Ave. in Greendale. A review of the show itself runs in the next issue of the Shepherd Express. For more information, visit the Quasimondo online.

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