The stage is set with a backdrop of torn canvas drop cloths in various sizes—juxtaposed in a manner somewhere in between random and studied. (Scenic Design: Joy Ahn) The seven barefoot members of the cast file in, all, except one, clad simply in loose non-descript clothes, that will later allow them to don jacket or other accessory to become one of the multiple roles they play. More immediately, their loose fitting garb allows them to perform the ensemble choreography that is—in this writer’s view—in itself sufficient to make this play a top pick for your time.
The exceptional costume is on David Goodloe, playing the elephant Mlima. (Costume Design: Caitlin McLeod). He is bare chested, with torso adorned with a white tattoo we later come to realize is the image of Mlima’s imagined tusks. These tusks, the source of ivory so adored in many Eastern cultures, are the driver of the story.
Mlima is regal. Mlima is soulful, perhaps reminding others of the one-time bestseller When Elephants Weep. And Mlima is brave until his end, which is actually near the play’s beginning, when we see him attempt to shake off death’s inevitable grasp.
Griffin Theatre Shows Usual Ensemble Performance Prowess
It’s the first image of Mlima – and one that bookends the story— that will likely most impress you, in this writer’s view. Here it is not just Goodloe, but the entire ensemble, with precise movements showing us Mlima’s inquisitive trunk, twitching ears, and slow steady pace likely making a thundering sound to all smaller animals in his path. If you have ever had the chance to go to an elephant preserve, you know that Griffin Theatre’s ensemble under the direction of Jerrell L. Henderson and movement designer Jacinda Ratcliffe has it down! In these scenes, and actually throughout, every cast member excels. For Chicago theater regulars, it is especially gratifying to see some of these newer-to-the-scene acting talents given roles where they can show their stuff and shine, as they all do.
Mlima might die, but he remains as a ghost commenting silently about his tale unfolding. Step by step we follow the trail of greed, spotlighting those cashing in at every turn, to get rich, or show their unabashed wealth with none of the shame it should engender. From poachers, to middlemen, and ultimately the socialite unveiling her new treasure to her retinue, we see one after another chapter in the story of greed that is Mlima’s Tale. Meanwhile, Mlima’s body contorts more and more in pain, becoming more and more ghostlike. The denouement of every scene, becomes the much anticipated moment when Mlima gives each character their well-deserved stigmata of shame.
Award-winning playwright Lynn Nottage has given us a wordy script. For this writer, it is more the brilliance of the physical theater add by Griffin that makes this must-see theater. If you feel comfortable with references to fracking as “provisional energy” this might not be your top pick. If you feel that you could find a place in a herd of elephants weeping for the planet and what man’s greed has wrought, this is a top pick for your time.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
Title: Mlima’s Tale
Playwright: Lynn Nottage
Director: Jerrell L. Henderson
Creative Team:Joy Ahn (scenic design), Caitlin McLeod (costume design), Jared Gooding (lighting design), L.J. Luthinger (sound design), Rachel Lambert (props design), Jacinda Ratcliffe (movement design), Lewon Johns (violence and intimacy choreographer), Ahmed Al-Hassan and Ryonn Gloster (assistant directors), Catherine Miller (casting director), Jonathan Mayo (production manager), Brian Sprague (technical director), Hara Kumaran (lighting assistant, master electrician), Sophie Blood (scenic painter), Sara Beaman (stage manager).
Through March 21, 2020
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 3 pm.
Please note: there will be an added performance on Monday, March 16 at 7:30 pm.
Run Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Raven Theatre’s Schwartz Stage
6157 N. Clark St.