Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Director Mark Lamos is an articulate spokesman whose program notes are often eloquent. He minces not a word and those who will watch the 80-minute Mlima's Tale after having read Lamos's explanation and plea will not be surprised. He explains intelligently and powerfully, informing the audience before a single word is spoken on stage.
This is a play about making money at the expense of elephants. Fewer and fewer of the magnificent animals are surviving. It is not legal to engage in trading ivory, but the practice continues. The play brings to light shady dealings, poaching and much more. The structure features one short scene after another. Multiple people are implicated as tusks leave Kenya for places like Vietnam and other Asian locales.
Jermaine Rowe is cast as Mlima, and Jennean Farmer, Adit Dileep and Carl Hendrick Louis fill roles of more than 20 characters. These include an individual who carves ivory, a warden at a park, and the captain of a boat. The actors deliver Nottage's dialogue with precision. Projections (facilitated by Yana Birÿkova) appear behind and about them. Rowe is at his best delivering a galvanic opening monologue that cannot be underestimated. He is not attempting to embody an elephant, but Mlima becomes a symbolic victim.
The following scenes are both relevant and informative. The staccato-like jump from one to the next, though, works against linkage. The social relevance of the piece cannot be disputedit is about people who are self-serving and addresses trafficking.
This is not a simple story but, after a time, it becomes a predictable one. We understand, early on, that performer Jermaine Rowe speaks for the elephant. The other three actors, by necessity, leap from a given character to the next as one situation yields to another. The theatergoer is neither aware of nor surprised by what follows.
Mlima's Tale is one of brutal truth. Lamos is passionate about the subject matter, and Nottage's dialogue is sometimes piercing. It would be improper and ill-advised to stage this play gently. This production is both specific and driven with energy.
Mlima's Tale runs through October 19, 2019, at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court Westport CT. For tickets and information, call 203-227-4177 or visit westportplayhouse.org.