Berkeley’s Shotgun Players dares you to cross the impossibly long Bay Bridge and navigate through a maze of windy streets until you randomly stumble upon North Berkeley’s John Hinkel Park. If you survive the journey you’ll find some of the best theater I’ve seen in the Bay Area.
There, starting at 4pm every Saturday and Sunday (through September 13th), a talented and energetic cast performs a gritty interpretation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (titled simply The Farm). Indicative of New York’s Gorilla Rep (who for years has performed raw, sexy and sweaty renditions of Shakespeare in various city parks), the Shotgun Players roll, stomp and swing around a perfectly imagined deconstructed set built cleverly around the back of a box truck.
For those of you who may not remember the story, Animal Farm is a lighthearted romp through Stalin era Russia portrayed by a variety of farm animals. After a pig representing Karl Marx plants the seeds of revolution (and is subsequently carted off to the slaughter house – ouch!), three of his disciples pick up the axe and lead the farm to quasi-independence. What starts as an idyllic one-for-all-and-all-for-one society quickly denigrates into something far darker, and horribly interesting to watch.
Director Jon Tracy has done a fantastic job re-envisioning the tale and nice touches abound (one of my favorite, tattoo-like stencils on each character that simultaneously remind the audience of their role, breed and/or disposition – including “Boar,” “Swine,” “Bitch,” “Stud,” etc). The staging is inventive, and except for one too many songs (this is still San Francisco-area theater – they just can’t help themselves), I wholeheartedly recommend the show.
If you go, bring $15, a few blankets and at least one down jacket per person: They ask for a $10 donation, sell hot dogs and wine during intermission and while it’s a bit chilly in August at 4pm, it’s downright frigid by the time the show ends!