Emerson Jeffery as Napoleon, one of the alpha pigs in the Mount Desert Island High School production of "Animal Farm." PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS DOUGHERTY

Students behave like animals! High school stages ‘Animal Farm’

Imagine if you will a political scenario in which the chosen leader constantly lies to his followers. He tells them their lives are improving when, in fact, they are not; he slanders and eliminates those who oppose him, and he enacts or dismantles rules and laws in order to enrich himself and his cronies. Hmmm.

Bonnie Snyder as Napoleon, left, and Irene Choi as a horse in the Mount Desert Island High School production of “Animal Farm.” PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS DOUGHERTY

This is the premise of “Animal Farm,” George Orwell’s allegorical tale about the rebellion of barnyard animals against their oppressive two-legged masters. It was written in response to Stalin’s rise to power in the Soviet Union but has a certain troubling resonance today.

Mount Desert Island High School theater students did a fine job last weekend performing a stage adaption of Orwell’s novel as one of the school’s two spring plays.

The play opens with the disgruntled animals complaining about how hard they are being made to work, and how little they are being fed. Two powerful voices emerge from all the mooing, neighing baaing and clucking; a pair of alpha pigs, Snowball (Emerson Jeffery) and Napoleon (Bonnie Snyder), assume command of the burgeoning rebellion, creating a manifesto and a plan to overthrow the oppressors.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that Snowball is a dewy-eyed idealist who truly wants to improve the lot of his four-legged and winged comrades, while Napoleon is more interested in the pleasures and privileges of personal power. After setting his loyal, thuggish dogs on his rival, Napoleon assumes full control; the laws enacted after the revolution, such as “No animal shall kill another animal” and “All animals are equal” are amended to “No animal shall kill another animal without cause” and “Some animals are more equal than others.”

Over time, Napoleon and his elite pig enforcers become indistinguishable from the farmers they once overthrew.

Andrew Periale’s adaptation, which was largely written for puppets, is told in narration, in dialogue and in a sort of Greek chorus of barnyard voices. With the help of Marilee Marchese’s marvelous costumes, which include pig, goat, chicken, dog, cow, etc. hats, the actors did a fine job taking on the roles of various animals, and in some scenes, as they gathered en masse in the hayloft and stalls of Carlene Hirsch’s excellent set, resembled a Muppet convention.

Standouts here were Snyder and Jeffery as the dueling leaders, Rosie Avila as a Cassandra-like raven, Irene Choi and Lupine Crawford as the loyal horses who literally work themselves to death in support of the revolution, and Colby Bennoch as Cat. In his next play, however, he needs to project more as some of his dialogue was lost.

The choruses of sheep and pigs — and, oh, those broody hens! — were terrific.

Director Frank Bachman kept the action lively and even injected a little humor into this dark tale.

Piper Charron, once again, created an ingenious special effect, turning the barn window into a video screen, and lighting and sound technicians Evelyn Zumwalt and Peter Benson and their crews did a super job of setting the scenes.

Speaking of dark tales, next weekend, director Chris Dougherty’s cast will perform Peter Shaffer’s hilarious farce “Black Comedy,” which takes place in a blackout. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, May 13, at 2 p.m.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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