‘Animals’ a lively, creative, must-see play

Projections that form the set for "The Animals and Children Took to the Streets." Aasimah Navlakhi/postandcourier.com.

Review BY RODNEY LEE ROGERS Special to The Post and Courier

The company 1927 is its own animal, an ingenious blend of theater, cinema and live music, the result of which is like a mythical creature that you might find in a carnival. You stare in wonder, hoping that such a beast can be real.

Several years ago the company thrilled audiences with “Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” a similar blend of disciplines that captured the imagination and brought insight into what it must have felt like to watch the first moving pictures.

The company’s cleverness seemingly knows no end. Its tricks however, are based in the innate qualities of its mediums — sumptuous visuals, creative perspectives, and the use of microphones not to amplify, but to create intimacy in performance.

These elements, coupled with live music, result in a theatrical experience that could best be described as watching a live movie. The degree of difficulty in pulling off such a feat trumps the experience of any 3-D multiplex blockbuster out there. It becomes a personal experience.

The promise of such an experience alone would contain the ability to lure most into 1927’s tent. However, “The Animals and Children Took to the Streets” binds the company’s extraordinary technical proficiency and splendor with an effective and universal story.

Deceptively simple, “Animals” tells of a long forgotten street that has been removed from the prosperous side of town. Red Herring Street is the treacherous home of broken souls where “if you’re born in the Bayou you die in the Bayou.”

The children of the street, however, will not be kept down, and it is only when their rioting spills over into the upscale park that the mayor is called into action.

The children are taken in the night by black ice cream trucks and given “Grannie’s Gumdrops” to calm them down. Enter into this world of segregation and sedation a caretaker, a young revolutionist and a mother and daughter, all of whom are searching for meaning while trying to keep the wolf at bay at the door.

If this all sounds a tad maudlin, fear not, it’s not. Dream-like, the layers of the story continue to unfold and we, as spectators of this delicious ride, yearn to analyze its meaning. It’s wicked fun in 1927’s clutches.

The German poet Schiller wrote, “Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than the truth that is taught in life.” “The Animals and Children Took to The Streets” is a fairy tale for the child inside all of us, feeling its way along the path of the story.

Audible gasps and “ahhs” of understanding were too numerous to count, and the height of this collected experience between artist and audience was reached when the audience itself was called upon to choose which road the story should take.

Not wanting to rob from the delight, I will say only that this experience shared with my fellow spectators was beautiful and oddly heartbreaking.

Perhaps the greatest testament to the piece came during an unexpected glitch toward the end of the performance. A momentary drawing back of the computerized curtain broke the spell, but the audience had become so much a part of the piece that they were firmly back in place after a quick remedy and well-placed quip from Suzanne Andrade, who wrote, directed and starred in the play.

Film animator and designer Paul Barritt deserves kudos for the vivid array of pictures and movement, beautifully integrated with the action, characterizations and evocative music by Lillian Henley.

Costume designers Sarah Munro and Esme Appleton also performed on stage. It was like a stew, with all ingredients intermingling and contributing to the overall flavor.

“The Animals and Children Took to the Streets,” produced with vision by Joanna Crowley, is a stunning and powerful piece of theater not to be missed.