BWW Reviews: Jeremy Crutchley Transforms into the SACRED ELEPHANT to Deliver a Message of Hope and Understanding
As the title implies, SACRED ELEPHANT is concerned with man's relationship with the planet's largest land mammal. Ancient, intelligent, social and beautiful, the pachyderm has captured the imagination of man for millennia. Indeed, the elephant has approached the status of a deity in some cultures. So powerful a creature is the huge beast that it has only one natural enemy: man.
Man slays elephants for trophies and for meat. The animals' tusks are pulled for the value of their ivory and for their ornamental properties. Elephant feet have been used to fashion customized wastebaskets. We have held them captive in zoos, so they can be gawked at by spectators. We've trained them to do tricks in circuses, when we haven't caged them. The continued existence of elephants in the coming decades is open to question. Attention must be paid, as the fate of the elephants casts a reflection on what will happen to us.
Actor Jeremy Crutchley and his director Geoffrey Hyland have taken the long poem SACRED ELEPHANT by Heathcote Williams and adapted it for the stage. Crutchley's third solo show explores both Man and Elephant through an ambivalent character called The Other, to demonstrate the conduct, contact and conflict between the two species as well as a possible preview of their ultimate fates.
Having lived in South Africa (where SACRED ELEPHANT made its debut prior to its U.S. premiere in New York City), Crutchley has had more exposure to African elephants in the wild than those of us in the Western Hemisphere where we are relegated to the zoo or a circus to marvel at our planet's largest land mammal. And of course being an animal lover, I have heard the horrific news reports of elephants being killed just for their tusks. But what I learned in this show is that because elephants know their tusks put them at risk, female elephants now seek out males who have smaller tusks for their mates. Thus elephants are using natural selection to cut down the risk of their own demise.
Crutchley embodies the persona of an African elephant from the moment he takes the stage. Dressed in a large gray overcoat with his gray face and matted hair thanks to costume designer Illka Louw, each time he sweeps around the stage you will feel you are watching the large pachyderm rather than a man. With his text verging on Shakespearean delivery, Crutchley takes on the rage of King Lear when it comes to describing man's inhumanity to elephants and what disaster may come from it. You can't help but focus on his intensity and listen with mind-opening concentration.
Other interesting facts shared by Crutchley: The ears of African elephants resemble the continent of Africa. Elephants have been associated with great wisdom and knowledge, represented in ancient religious symbols from many cultures including the Romans, Greeks, and Hindus with their God Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, represented as being half elephant.
As he described their life cycle, Crutchley's body movements easily transformed his arms into two intertwining trunks during elephant foreplay, described with great love and reverence. Elephants are pregnant for two years and give birth in a circle, surrounded by family members who act as mid-wives, open to mercy killing when needed. In fact, elephants know how to take care of each other medically and can lower their own metabolic rate, breathing only 12 times per minute. And if it is for the greater good, an elephant will commit suicide to save his clan. Certainly man underestimates their intelligence, given an elephant's brain weighs nine pounds at birth.
Thanks to SACRED ELEPHANT, I now have a better understanding of how much man has in common with the elephant, including the ability to express many emotions and being a real caregiver to members of their family and loved ones. And it is up to us to be sure this intelligent and loving pachyderm will thrive so we, in turn, can do the same. The show is both a warning and an emblem of hope.
"What happens to beasts will happen to man. All things are connected. If the great beasts are gone, man will surely die of a great loneliness of spirit."---Chief Seattle, 1884
SACRED ELEPHANT, the West Coast Premiere of a new show adapted by Jeremy Crutchley and Geoffrey Hyland from the poem by Heathcote Williams. Directed by Geoffrey Hyland. Presented by SheerNerve Productions and BuyArt. A guest production at The Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025, starring Jeremy Crutchley.
Opens July 25, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. Runs through August 17. Regular show times: Thurs.- Sat. at 8:00, Sun. at 2:00. ESTIMATED RUNNING TIME: 70 minutes.