Written and Performed by Michael Harren; Directed by Adam Fitzgerald
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Ran through 10.29.16
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street
by Ran Xia on 11.2.16
Michael Harren at the Tamerlaine Farm Animal Shelter. Photo by Diana Bezanski.
BOTTOM LINE: Michael Harren’s heartfelt and humorous personal accounts of his experience with animals concerns the importance of keeping all animals from harm.
Michael Harren is a vegan. However, his multimedia solo piece is not at all blatant preaching, but rather a moving personal account of his genuine love for all the animals he’s encountered in his life. After a trio of keyboards, viola and cello, Harren begins to tell his own coming-of-age story: the awkwardness of growing up, realizing his own sexuality, being picked on by his peers, and most importantly, the bond he formed with his first dog, who became his constant companion, and a lifelong influence on the man Harren would eventually grow into.
The Animal Show chronicles Harren’s life stories, interspersed with his original compositions, which accompany testimonials of veganism as well as the recreation of a demonstration. However, the more powerful parts, indeed the focal stories of the piece, come from Harren’s experience doing a residency at the Tamerlaine Farm, an animal shelter that rescues and houses farm animals, many of which had endured severe abuse.
One story Harren tells is about an entire coop of alpha male roosters turning on one another. One particular rooster who gets picked on the most manages to fly over the fence in order to be away from the bullies, only to terrorize the hens on the other side. The custodians of the farm eventually had to clip his wings just enough so that he was no longer able to get above the fence.
Each one of the funny, curious, and heart-breaking stories depict the consequences of animal cruelty, the helplessness that Harren felt during his stay on the farm, and above all, his love for all creatures alike. Harren also recounts his encounter with Clara the pig, who bit him and taunted him viciously. Harren is a generous performer who is unafraid to expose his own vulnerability, which makes his story doubly genuine and moving; both the fear and compassion he felt towards Clara was palpable. In candid, straightforward storytelling, Harren is able to include us on his personal journey and help us understand the connections he made on the Tamerlaine Farm.
Sharing one’s personal vulnerabilities in front of an audience is one of the bravest things to do, especially when Harren is also trying to make a difference by promoting veganism. His sincerity here is to be applauded. He is most successful in the unpolished moments, rather than the more experimental elements, where the futuristic touch becomes more distracting than enhancing. The Animal Show is nevertheless a thought-provoking piece; you might even leave wanting to become vegan yourself.
(The Animal Show played at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, through October 29, 2016. The running time is 75 minutes. Tickets were $16 in advance; $20 at the door. For more information visit dixonplace.org.)
The Animal Show is written and performed by Michael Harren based on the artist’s residency on The Tameraine Farm Animal Sanctuary. Directed by Adam Fitzgerald. Musicians are David Packer, Leah Coloff, and Michael Harren.