HOUSTON -- "The stage, TV, and movies notwithstanding, there are innumerable tales so wide in scope, spanning such vast periods of space and time, that their events cannot adequately be portrayed by settings. Such vistas can only be encompassed by the mind, wherein the limitless canvas of the imagination can be painted by the words and voices of the readers."
So wrote Nelson Bond in a program note to his stage adaptation of George Orwell's classic satire Animal Farm, a nightmarish allegory in which barnyard creatures newly emancipated from the cruel mastery of a human owner ultimately become subject to the rule of even more ruthless autocrats from among their own ranks: greedy, cunning pigs.
Reinterpreted by Bond as a reader's theater piece, or what he calls a "dramatic reading," the play was first presented, under Bond's direction, in 1961 at The Showtimers Studio Theatre, Roanoke, VA. Main Street Theater in Houston is reviving it, as part of its Young People's Theater season, on April 5 for general audiences of all ages, and on selected other dates for various junior and senior high school students.
"Dramatic readings require skill on the part of the narrators, and on the part of the listeners," Bond stressed in his script notes. Ann C. James, the director of the Main Street production, plans to help the latter out by incorporating elements of radio theater: stylistic movements, structured blocking, and sound effects. These should come in especially handy, what with no props, sets, or costumes.
"The themes of mind control, blindly following a leader, totalitarianism, all these will speak to audiences today," James said, "since a lot of these atrocities are happening now in the world, especially across Africa." And while it's not necessary to be conversant with the Orwell original, the schoolchildren who will be seeing the show will have read the novel beforehand in the classroom. Main Street is distributing study guides to the participating teachers.
Goody bags sponsored by Polygram Records, will be distributed to the first 60 students who reserve tickets. Filled with videos, cassettes, and CDs by Texas bands, as well as musically-related keychains and stickers, the "Alterna-kit!" has nothing to do with Animal Farm, except indirectly.
Main Street mainstay Joel Sandel is the lead Animal.
Animal Farm plays at Main Street Theater in Houston, as part of its Young People's Theater season, Mar. 29 and April 5, and on other dates for junior and senior high schools. For tickets, $11 (there are discounts for groups), call (713) 524-6706
-- By Peter Szatmary