Review Roundup: Lynn Nottage's MLIMA'S TALE at the Public Theater
The Public Theater is currently hosting the world premiere of MLIMA'S TALE, written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and directed by Obie Award winner Jo Bonney. MLIMA'S TALE continues The Public's Astor Anniversary Season at their landmark downtown home on Lafayette Street, celebrating 50 years of new work and the 50th Anniversary of HAIR. The play will run through Sunday, May 20 in The Public's Martinson Hall.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage returns to The Public with a new drama as moving and incisive as her Broadway debut play Sweat. Taking us on a journey that starts in a game park in Kenya and goes around the world, MLIMA'S TALE is the story of Mlima, a magnificent elephant trapped in the clandestine international ivory market. Following a trail of greed and desire as old as trade itself, Mlima leads us through memory and fear, history and tradition, and want and need. Obie Award winner Jo Bonney directs this poignant new play that reveals the surprising and complicated deals that connect us all.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, New York Times: Ms. Nottage makes deft and fleet-footed use of the Schnitzler prototype of overlapping lives. The production traces the movement of Mlima's tusks from the elephant's death through their sale and subsequent smuggling out of Kenya until their final, grim apotheosis as an exquisite ivory set in the penthouse of a rich connoisseur.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: Mlima's Tale, the new play by Lynn Nottage that you'll see at the top, is dedicated to excavating the gnarly human details behind the assault on one of the planet's most endangered animals. While it's not a revelatory theatrical experience, the show is tightly crafted and engagingly performed, and there's something strangely refreshing about an issue play that's not pretending to be something else. Inside the boundaries it's set for itself, Mlima's Tale knows what it's about and moves us swiftly and often effectively through its story of man's inhumanity to beast.
Matt Windman, amNY: The empty stage is seamlessly and instantly altered for new scenes through an intensive battery of lighting, shifting panels, digital projections and sound (performed by a live musician). Nottage's underlying notion (that people from all kinds of backgrounds can easily become engaged in unethical activities) is genuinely unsettling. It turns what is a highly unusual drama about an elephant into a tragedy with universal implications.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Elephants don't forget. Lynn Nottage's "Mlima's Tale," a haunting drama about avarice and ivory, offers a dramatic reminder that the majestic beasts endure things no living creature would want to recall. Beginning in a game park in Kenya, the play at The Public Theater follows Mlima, a rare old "big tusker," who's hunted and butchered for his ivory teeth. The subject matter isn't ground-breaking, but two-time Pulitzer winner Nottage's ("Ruined," "Sweat") by turns lacerating and lyrical play leaves a mark.
Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: This latest work, receiving its world premiere at The Public Theater, marks a stylistic departure for playwright Nottage, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Ruined, Sweat) who specializes in putting a complex human face on charged political and social issues. This play is less character-driven and more story theater-like in its approach, employing the La Ronde-inspired device of relating its story in short episodes in which one character from the preceding scene appears in the next.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Fortunately, what makes "Mlima's Tale" not movie-like is that an actor, Sahr Ngaujah, plays Mlima, an old male elephant that's about to be poached in Kenya. Never for a moment does Ngaujah's performance suggest that animal's lumbering heavy grace. The actor moves more like a slowly stalking big cat; nonetheless, Ngaujah's truly balletic movements fascinate and his baritone speaking voice is mellifluous.
Regina Robbins, TimeOut: Director Jo Bonney's beautiful production traces the path of Mlima's prized tusks through the international ivory market. Lap Chi Chu's gorgeous lighting design and Riccardo Hernandez's economical but evocative sets take us from a game reserve near Mombasa, Kenya, to the haunts of the rich and powerful. Those who admit no ambiguity on this subject will be challenged; though there's plenty of greed on display, there is also the desperation of poverty, as well as devotion to cultural practices that are thousands of years old.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus