WHEN WILL GEER WAS BLACKLISTED DURING THE 1950S MCCARTHY ERA “RED SCARE,” HE CREATED THEATRICUM BOTANICUM AS A HAVEN FOR OTHER BLACKLISTED ACTORS.
How do lies become truths? An acclaimed stage adaptation of Animal Farm, the classic novel by George Orwell, opens at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum on June 17, part of the company’s “Rising Up” Summer 2017 Repertory Season.
Artistic Director Ellen Geer directs the adaptation by Sir Peter Hall, originally produced by Britain’s National Theatre, which features music by Richard Peaslee and lyrics by Adrian Mitchell. Marshall McDaniel is musical director, and pianist Daniel Sugimoto heads up a band of cows, sheep, dogs, hens and farmers on instruments ranging from sax, clarinet, oboe, violin, melodica, guitar and banjole to drums and percussion.
Orwell’s brilliant political satire about the corrupting influence of power charts the fall of idealism and the rise of tyranny after the animals of Manor Farm rise up against their oppressive human owner in a struggle for rights and equality. Led by Snowball, an idealistic pig (Christopher Yarrow), they take over the farm from Mr. Jones (Steve Fisher). Their plan goes well at first; all the animals are equal and content. But eventually, several of the other pigs, led by Napoleon (Mark Lewis) and Squealer (Melora Marshall), yield to the lure of power and decide that some animals are more equal than others.
“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism,” wrote Orwell in an article called ‘Why I Write’. “Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”
“In a revolution, things happen so quickly that, sometimes, before people know it, the pendulum has swung right back again,” says Geer. “The new leaders seize and hold onto power using military strength, then lull the populace with propaganda. That’s why apathy is so frightening. We delude ourselves into thinking that everything will be better, but we don’t do the necessary work to make sure those in power don’t abuse it.”
The Theatricum cast also includes Clayton Cook as Moses, Thad Geer as Old Major, Katherine Griffith as Clover, Holly Hawk as Minimus, Rodrick Jean-Charles as Benjamin, Max Lawrence as Boxer, Lea Madda as Mollie and Jackie Nicole as Muriel.
Costume design is by Beth Glasner; lighting design is by Zach Moore; and props/set design is by Ernest McDaniel. The production stage manager is Kim Cameron.
With its one-of-a-kind outdoor setting in the heart of Topanga Canyon and its roots in the 1950s McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklist — when actor Will Geer created the theater as a haven for blacklisted actors — Theatricum is best known for its productions that frame contemporary social issues through the lens of classic literature.
Theatricum has been an oasis for theatergoers for more than 40 years, presenting Shakespeare and the classics in repertory in its scenic, outdoor amphitheater in rustic Topanga Canyon. Unlike most theaters in the Los Angeles area that stage continuous runs of a single play, the Theatricum, using a company of actors, performs five plays each season on a rotating basis. By the end of the summer, when all five plays are up and running, it is possible to see a performance of each in a single weekend. Theatricum Botanicum is a recipient of the prestigious Margaret Harford Award, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circles highest honor for sustained excellence.
Theatricum Botanicum has been named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine, “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine, and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly. “The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum’s maiden season way back in 1973.
Animal Farm opens on Saturday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Oct. 1, running in repertory with The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Other Desert Cities and Trouble in Mind. Tickets range from $10-$38.50. Animal Farm is recommended for ages 10 and up.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For a complete schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, call 310-455-3723 or log onto www.theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum.