Wade Vaughn in Elephant's Graveyard.
Photo by Charlie Gorril
A game 13-actor cast takes on George Brant's devilishly difficult Elephant's Graveyard, a 75-minute exploration of a real-life case of an elephant lynching in Tennessee in 1916. At times, I wished all of the effort could have been for the benefit of a better script.
Brant does the company no favors. Each of the characters tell their own part of the story, often with interaction that is hinted at rather than explicit. The attempts to draw larger parallels between the incident and America at large are terribly on the nose.
Despite all of this, Theatre Pro Rata's production is genuinely engaging. A lot of that is down to the staging from Amber Bjork and the solid work done by the company.
The story takes place over a few days in a small Tennessee town. The barnstorming Starks circus is coming to town, led by Mary. She is the lead elephant and the biggest attraction. A series of circumstances, from the elephant's past history to a super-green handler on her back, leads to a death.
The townfolk still want a spectacle, and something resembling justice. Mary is sacrificed on a gallows made from a railroad crane and heavy-duty chains.
Much of what is good about the show works despite of Brant's overly stylized and rather stilted writing. For whatever reason, the playwright has set up numerous barriers between his story and the audience, and they don't seem to serve any purpose except to show off how "experimental" he can be.
Leading the actors is Wade Vaughn as "The Ringmaster" (no mamby-pamby character names for this script), the circus head who knows to play a crowd and balance his investment versus the circus's survival. Arrayed against Mary and the circus are the townsfolk, led by the angry Marshall (Nathan Tylutki), who are out for blood.
The most interesting characters are a pair that show a sensitive side. There is the town Preacher (Ethan Bjelland), who wishes that the town would show mercy, but is so ineffectual that no one bothers to listen to him, and Neal Skoy as the elephant trainer. His story (testimony may be the best way to describe it) is heart wrenching, as he does all he can to make Mary's final hours as peaceful as possible.
IF YOU GO:
Through March 2
1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, visit online.