Lynn Nottages’ unusual play, “Mlima’s Tale,” a modern fable about a beloved elephant, its spirit, and the various stages of corruption in the selling of its ivory, is currently being offered at Westport Country Playhouse (WCP).
“Mlimba” in African Swahili means “woman of the mountains.” The name may sound confusing as female elephants have very small tusks and some have none at all. But, in any case, the Mlima in this piece was born in Kenya and inherited this powerful spirit of listening to Nature from his mother. Among the local villagers, he was also the respected patriarch of a long line of elephants that had very large, prize tusks. As for the secret spirits of the dead, supposedly they can be of any sex. Presented in only one act lasting eighty minutes, this is a serious documentary that could easily have be shown on PBS, or better yet, made into a fantastic, modern ballet.
Directed by Mark Lamos, Jermaine Rowe, a former dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem and National Dance theatre Company of Jamaica, plays the part of Mlima, the elephant whose haunting spirit follows his body’s parts as they are traded. Adit Dileep, Jannean Farmer and Carl Hendrick Louis play 20 characters as they participate in a series of flashing scenes depicting the illegal trading from Vietnam to Beijing. The greed and corruption that transpires is ironic and sometimes humorous but unfortunately, the play’s ending does not make a strong enough impact.
The tale actually begins as a ballet, and one can certainly admire soloist Jermaine Rowe’s highly expressive quivering movements and verbal invocations choreographed by Jeffrey Page. The dancer is accompanied by music composed by Michael Keck, and the three-dimensional projections by Yana Birykova are absolutely stunning.
While documentaries about saving whales would seem to be a more appropriate cause for coastal, Americans citizens to support than saving elephants in far off Africa, many of us may have forgotten this animal’s Connecticut connection. Until 1954, ivory was shipped up river to the town of Ivoryton, where its manufactured pianos had keys made of ivory.
Where else would a production of this sort be more appreciated than in Westport Connecticut, home to a number of movers and shakers of worthwhile causes? If you love “Barbar The Elephant” and wish to save ALL animals, including humans, this play will certainly reinforce your beliefs however, for greater impact, Mlima’s Tale should be best performed before the leaders of worldwide organizations.
Plays to October 19 Tickets: 203-227-4177