BWW Review: MLIMA'S TALE at Westport Country Playhouse
Lynn Nottage's powerful play, Mlima's Tale, which opened at the Westport Country Playhouse is a bit of a theatrical departure. It is an ensemble play that is not really character driven, but rather a linear narrative of the illegal poaching of elephants. Nevertheless, it is a must-see play for its informative story and superb performances.
The narrative begins by Mlima (Jermaine Rowe), great tusk elephant who is supposed to be protected by the government of Kenya. But funding for the game park was cut and exceptionally large and perfect tusks such as Mlima's are in high demand by contract poachers and buyers of ivory. But the story doesn't end there, and Mlima is ever present throughout the play. Three players (Jennean Farmer, Adit Dileep, and Carl Hendrick Louis) play all the other characters including two Somali poachers, a park warden, a corrupt chief of police, a master ivory carver, and a nouveau riche buyer. Most know that they are complicit in Mlima's death and the sale of his tusks. This trio deftly changes characters with Fabian Fidel Aguilar's costumes and dialects (guided brilliantly by Julie Foh) and each one is tainted by their guilt as the ghost of Mlima appears everywhere. Isabella Byrd's lighting and Yana Birÿkova's impressive projections complement Claire DeLiso's smart and simple set.
Jermaine Rowe's agility, strength, and stage presence are remarkable as Mlima is transformed from a free elephant roaming the savannah to a pair of flawless tusks. Praise also goes to Mark Lamos for his taut directing, Jeffrey Page for choreography and Michael Rossmy for fight direction.
Mlima's Tale is based on Damon Tabor's article, "The Ivory Highway" (www.mensjournal.com/features/the-ivory-highway-20140213/). The play runs at the Westport Country Playhouse until October 19, but the issue of illegal poaching and what it does to the elephant population will run longer. "If you really listen," says Mlima, "our entire history is written on the wind." The Westport Country Playhouse is located at 25 Powers Court, Westport. For tickets, call 203-227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.