BAR HARBOR — Imagine you are the director of a play, and one week into rehearsal, almost your entire cast disappears, not to reappear until two weeks before opening night.
Well, this is essentially the pickle that Mount Desert Island High School directors Frank Bachman and Chris Dougherty are in with their productions of the high school’s two spring plays, “Animal Farm” and “Black Comedy.”
“We cast [“Animal Farm”] just a week before spring vacation, and some of our cast left even earlier to go to Rome and Greece on the senior class trip,” said Bachman. In addition, there have been show choir performances, final exams to study for and other spring distractions.
So it was not exactly the optimal rehearsal schedule, although the director’s loss was perhaps Greece’s gain as, apparently, several cast members ran their lines while visiting the Parthenon.
“Animal Farm,” the play Bachman chose this year, is based on George Orwell’s novel about the dangers of totalitarian regimes and personality cults. It is relevant in several ways to current events and has a local hook as well.
Although Orwell had Stalinism in mind when he wrote the novel, there are certainly examples of this political landscape in today’s world, some uncomfortably close to home. This particular adaptation was written by College of the Atlantic graduate Andrew Periale, who with his wife, Bonnie, performed for several years at The Deck House and now manages the Perry Alley Theatre in New Hampshire, a puppetry showcase.
“I saw this performed at COA about five years ago,” said Bachman, “and I’ve had it in mind to do ever since.”
He said he thought it would be perfect for this year with so many time conflicts, because it was a small cast with some of the characters played by puppets.
“And then 20 kids showed up at auditions,” he said. Not wanting to leave anyone out, especially a big group of enthusiastic freshmen, Bachman tinkered with the play, turning the puppets back into humans, uh, actually, animals, including a Greek chorus of pigs.
Fortunately, costume designer Marilee Marchese did not leave her post during spring break. Instead, she spent the time creating a literal menagerie of headwear for the rebellious farm animals to don, not to mention assembling outfits for eight mid-century English folks trapped in a blacked-out apartment for the other spring play.
In “Animal Farm,” Bachman has veteran performers Bonnie Snyder and Emerson Jeffery playing the lead roles of alpha pigs Napoleon and Snowball (think Stalin and Beria) and said he is impressed, once again, by how quickly and thoroughly these two and the rest of his cast grasped the intent of the story.
“They started out saying things like, ‘You always pick such weird plays’ to completely taking over their roles,” Bachman said.
“As a result, the play is perhaps a little lighter than the material about despotism might suggest, but I think it works,” he said. “You know, these kids have become so sophisticated in their ability to both understand and communicate complex ideas, I trust them to take on these more challenging works and find their own ways to successfully portray them.”
“Animal Farm” will be performed at the Higgins-Demas Theater this weekend, on Friday and Saturday, May 4 and 5, at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, May 6, at 2 p.m.