'Farm' Fresh

'Farm' Fresh

Synetic's animal revolution takes over Spectrum stage.

The stage adaptation of George Orwell's anti-totalitarian allegory "Animal Farm," which plays at the Rosslyn Spectrum through May 20, is a 1 hour, 45-minute blast of energy.

This won't come as a surprise to those familiar with the amazing mixture of dance, mime, posturing and gesture that is the trademark of the production company Synetic Theater. Yet, even by Synetic's traditional standards, this production is sky-high.

The adaptation relies on the juxtaposition of live action and events played out in videos displayed on a big screen in the center of the Spectrum's cramped playing space. It is a technique that compensates for the lack of room on this stage which was originally built to be a conference facility that can host theater too.

It also opens the story up. For example, when Irakli Kavsadze, as Farmer Jones, is chased off his farm by the animals, they race off-stage only to show up on-screen. In a series of Keystone Cops-type chase scenes, the innovative use of the pre-recorded video expands the world the production is able to portray to include farm land as well as interior locations.

Orwell's novel has been produced before on the screen, in both live action and an animated feature film, but here the predominantly live performance augmented by on-screen video is unique. It is also uniquely satisfying although it does seem from time to time that they take it to excess and run specific video sequences on too long.

SYNETIC'S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Paata Tsikurishvili directs this new adaptation, which he wrote with his frequent script writing collaborator Nathan Weinberger. They team up again with choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili to tell the story in a series of 10 nearly manic scenes. With less energy, that might leave the impression that the piece is needlessly episodic. But, as performed by Synetic's always highly disciplined, very physical actors, the story zips along.

Synetic doesn't always rely on words to tell their story. In fact, they may be best known in town for their wordless "Hamlet … the rest is silence" which earned three Helen Hayes Awards: one for Paata for Outstanding Director, one for Irina for Outstanding Choreography and one for everyone involved for the Outstanding Play of the year in 2003.

"Animal Farm" couldn't be done without words because, in part, it is about words. It is about the power of propaganda, reassuring lies and the way he who controls the language controls the debate. For example, the pigs convince the entire animal population of the farm of the importance of seven commandments until one or another of the commandments becomes inconvenient

to the leadership. Then commandments such as "No animal may drink alcohol" becomes "No animal may drink alcohol to excess"; and, in the ultimate reversal, "All animals are created equal" becomes "All animals are created equal only some are more equal than others."

Synetic, with a name that is in itself a fusion of words ("Syn" for synthesis and "Netic" for Kinetic) takes to this subject without wordiness. They use just the right amount of dialogue to make the point. Even the video screen gets into the act, with the seven commandments projected as the animals tip tap away on a computer keyboard.

THE STAGING and the choreography emphasize the groupings of animals in the story. Three hens in the person of Marissa Molnar, Jessica Hansen and Shannon Listol, spring about with arms back like wings and thrust their faces forward in a pecking action. Phillip Hylton, Ben Cuis and Eric Humphries prance with an equine gate as the farm's horses and Peter Stray, Dave Bobb and Andrew Zox recreate the feeding frenzy of hogs at the trough as Snowball, Napoleon and Squealer — the pigs Orwell envisioned leading the animal revolution.

Bobb is suitably despicable as the pig who overthrows even the other pigs in Orwell's allegory of Stalin's expulsion of Trotsky. Stray is clearly more principled as Snowball, the Trotsky pig, while Andrew Zox has a few chillingly effective moments in the propaganda-spouting (Molotov) role.

As is often the case with Synetic productions, the music selected to accompany the action is key to the impact of the entire piece. Original music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze augments recordings of music by Gia Kancheli and Alfred Schnitky, as well as traditional Georgian and Russian folk music.

The audio binds the elements together, setting a high standard for energy.

It is a standard each performer reaches.

Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.