Julia Wiseman (Narrator) Emma Wiseman (Clover / The Cat) Alaina Smith (Mollie/ Muriel) Christian Sanko (center) / (Boxer/Pilkington) Josof Ruttig (Squealer / Moses) Tyler Kirker (Snowball / Benjamin) Keon Dalziel (center) / (Major / Napoleon)
By Tom Wachunas
“…Is it not crystal clear, then, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings?...Man serves the interests of no creature except himself…” - from the pig named Major, in his speech to the animals from Chapter 1 of Animal Farm, by George Orwell
PERFORMANCE: Theatre At Malone University, and Malone University Department of Communication, Visual, and Performing Arts, present ANIMAL FARM: A Fable in Two Acts, adapted by Nelson Bond from George Orwell's classic novel, and directed by Craig Joseph.
The production features Malone University students Keon Dalziel, Tyler Kirker, Julia Robinson, Josof Ruttig, Christian Sanko, Alaina Smith, and Emma Wiseman, all playing multiple roles. ANIMAL FARM is a readers' theatre piece, adapted for the film medium during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students' performances are supplemented by music, sound effects, video clips, and original artwork by artists from around the country (featured in the exhibit currently on view at Stark Library Main Branch until December 5) to create an "illustrated radio play" of sorts, designed for online viewing.
Remaining performance dates are Friday and Saturday, November 20th-21st. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at
One viral casualty of this protracted time of social distancing is the art of live theatre. With local playhouses empty and their stages dark, where can an ardent theatre enthusiast go? Why, to digital technology, of course – that ubiquitous deliverer of virtual (though not always virtuous) life. Zoom is in the room, effectively making my desktop monitor a compact stage in itself, even if it is only a flattened, albeit inventive facsimile of 3D theatrical reality. An illusion of an illusion, if you will.
Still, this project nevertheless delivers a skillfully crafted portrait and an otherwise deeply probing manifestation of the characters and their circumstances. So for the moment, you might consider putting aside any expectations you may have of seeing a conventional-looking stage production.
There aren’t the traditional stage accoutrements here such as the elaborate artifice of costumes, variable lighting, or constructed sets. That said, and with thanks to the excellent camera work and editing by Josh Branch Productions, the incorporation of 46 artworks by various artists in the concurrent Animal Farm exhibit at Stark Library - like so many quotation marks or exclamation points - greatly enhances the dimensionality of the on-camera oral narrative. The proceedings unfold in a found environment, an actual farm, bathed throughout in natural light. It’s a bright, sunny day for a dark, satirical allegory.
The seven student actors, directed by Craig Joseph, deliver this unusual presentation with an intense, emotive clarity that is truly riveting from beginning to end. They’re not simply reading Orwell’s words back to us, vivid as those words certainly are. Often looking directly into the camera, they perform the words with earnest credibility, actualizing them in the same way eyewitnesses to a revolution might look us in the eye as they report what they have experienced. And interestingly enough, beyond the specific events being described in Orwell’s narrative, the most compelling, tangible actions in this entire production are to be found in the sharply honed authenticity of facial expressions and mesmerizing vocal inflections from each these gifted performers as they confidently trot, canter, and gallop through the story.
Here’s hoping that in the not- too- distant future, we’ll see them again, electrifying our local stages.