Audience members at ANIMAL FARM TO TABLE double as guests at a fictional farm collective’s 20th anniversary Harvest Festival. The farm started when North Philly neighborhood resident Sue turned a vacant lot into a place to grow collards, mustard greens and community. The play starts with stops at “stations” to rap with the garden’s current members (I mainly hang with Bonnie [Lesley Berkowitz-Zak], who rhapsodizes about weeding and fresh herbs’ superiority over supermarket jarred), then moves on to a meeting circle and guided meditation that could have been a satire of urban homesteaders or just straight-on cliché. This leaves me wondering: Is this a play or the real story of this place? (The picture-perfect site-specific setting at Life Do Grow community farm and good acting could be partly to blame.) And what does this have to do with the titular Orwell novel? Then suddenly the planned farm tour runs into a locked gate and an eviction notice from a “Mr. Jones,” and the play finally starts grappling with the class issues, power struggles and animal behavior that has made Animal Farm mandatory high school English class reading.
So the first part of ANIMAL FARM TO TABLE is so real it borders on boring. And the people gathered round my picnic table at the post-show vegetarian dinner didn’t really take up lead actor Doug Greene’s invitation to discuss the issues about food and class and money and power that the play’s latter half strives to dramatize. On the other hand, I now know that Norwegian kids are crazy for a fish-based breakfast food that looks like milky Jell-O (something a fellow audience member did talk about) and that Chef Ben (food consultant Brion Schreffler) makes a killer squash puree.
[Life Do Grow Farm, 11th and Dauphin streets] September 8-18, 2016; fringearts.com/animal-farm-table.