Animal’s Ironic Mirror of Human History

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Northeastern University production of Elephant’s Graveyard. Photo courtesy of northeastern.edu.

For a play about a small town, a circus, and an elephant, Elephant’s Graveyard is not light-hearted. Rachael MacAskill, who played Ballet Girl, said they “only had one show where the audience didn’t cry.” Even if you don’t think you’ll get upset over the lynching of a circus elephant, the heavy second half of the show and the chilling narrative evokes primal reactions in even the most hardhearted of viewers. Revulsion, pity, and even horror take center stage as a cast of townspeople and circus members describe the events that culminate in the lynching, using a giant crane, of the female elephant, Mary.

Mary does not come onstage in any form throughout the play, despite being the central character. Although flags are hung and stages wheeled out for the circus, no representation of an elephant is shown other than in the words of the characters. This was intentional, said Rachael, and it was noted in the stage directions of the piece that an elephant should never actually appear. Instead, the audience is painted a picture of everything that happens in the play with words.

Unlike a conventional play, Elephant’s Graveyard is driven by individual monologues.

“There is a lot of speaking directly to the audience, rather than to another actor, which took some getting used to,” admitted Helena Barth, who played the Tour Manager.

The effect on the audience is unlike any other conventional, dialogue-driven play. Everything is described in past-tense, as if it had happened moments ago, but none of the immediacy or emotional response is lost.

While Elephant’s Graveyard is mainly told through words, it is both a visual and an auditory spectacle. Weaving in and out of the monologues are sharp snare drums, melancholy guitar, and haunting a capella singing. The stage was minimal, but a giant, worn clock hanging from the ceiling dominated the space, reminding everyone of the constant march of time and tying into the advent of the railway system.

As the play is brought to a close with monologues from each character before they leave the stage, the audience is left dazed by the aftermath of Mary’s hanging. It is a hard play to shake off, as the messages of the human tendency towards violent “justice” and our bloodlust culture are artfully woven into the story and connected to the racism of the early 20th century.

“There is so much we can learn through theatre about ourselves,” said MacAskill.

The show is the ironic reflection of the human history and appealing for justice and peace.

Although Elephant’s Graveyard has finished its run, Northeastern’s Department of Theatre’s next production is The Phantom Lady, which a classical Spanish comedy in verse. It runs from November 5th-17th, and tickets can be reserved by calling 617.373.4700 or using the myTickets tab in myNEU.

 









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