Last night we had the good fortune to attend a special performance of Dartmouth Players’ latest production, Elephant’s Graveyard, written by George Brant. Based on our sneak preview, I highly recommend you buy tickets asap so you don’t miss out. The play runs from March 30th to April 15th with evening performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday and matinees on Sunday.
I admit to feeling some trepidation as we walked to the theatre last evening. I knew the play was based on the true story of a circus elephant’s death in a small Tennessee town in 1916, and that events leading to her death reflected the darker aspects of human nature. But I needn’t have worried. Though the story is terribly sad, this Dartmouth Players production is as emotionally and psychologically compelling as it is visually beautiful.
To begin, let me congratulate the team responsible for creating a near perfect setting for the play. Set design (Ray Lefresne), costume design (Pam Wood), and lighting design (Richard Bonner) worked together brilliantly, contrasting brightly costumed circus performers against drably attired townspeople, and highlighting key action and dialogue. More congratulations must go to music advisor, Greg Simm, and musicians, Evan Toth-Martinez (drums) and Jacques Robear (guitar and vocals) for their contributions, which did much to support the dramatic arch of the production.
Not including Mary the elephant (who never appears on stage though she is palpably present throughout), the cast comprises fourteen performers, many of whom remained on stage for almost the entire play (which runs to 90 minutes with no intermission). Under the superb direction of Tamara Smith, they delivered a series of interrelated monologues – interspersed with short choral pieces – that could, in less capable hands, have left the audience dazed and confused. But that never happened, no matter how crowded the scene.
Given the size of the cast, there isn’t space to comment on each actor individually, but, without exception, they delivered powerful, engaging performances that fostered understanding and sympathy for even the most despicable characters. From the disappointed New Testament preacher (Matthew Myers) to the sad and avaricious ringmaster (Roy Ellis), their performances will remain with me for a long time.
Though all the cast did well, I must make special mention of Sharleen Kalayil, whose depiction of Mary’s trainer was gripping and sensitive throughout, Christine Gerogiannis, whose portrayal of an exuberant youngster struck all the right notes, Sean Mott, whose impassioned soliloquy on American greatness sent familiar shivers through the audience, Des Adams, whose weary and laconic observations on Mary’s death and the recent lynching of a black man in the same town shone a light on the grim values that underpin much of American (and, some would argue, Canadian) society to this day, and Brad Morrisson, whose regret-filled closing lines provided some small measure of redemption.
Of course, no production can succeed without a lot of hard work and experience behind the scenes. Elephant’s Graveyard was ably produced by Holly Irving, a long-time member of Dartmouth Players, and stage managed by Nikki Beaulieu-Belliveau (Stage Manager) and Tippy Scott (Assistant Stage Manager.)
As for the peanuts – well, you’ll just have to go see the play to understand what that’s all about. I strongly recommend you do!