Review: MLIMA'S TALE at Profile Theatre [Audio Play]

An audio version of Lynn Nottage's intense drama about the international ivory trade

By: Oct. 08, 2020
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Review: MLIMA'S TALE at Profile Theatre [Audio Play] I'm still figuring out my personal approach to listening to audio plays. Do I take a walk? Fiddle around on my phone? Or get rid of all distractions and immerse myself completely in the experience, like I would for live theatre?

In the interest of transparency, I'll admit that I started Lynn Nottage's MLIMA'S TALE, the latest audio play from Profile Theatre, while fiddling around on my phone. But by the middle of the first scene, I had put my screen away and given myself over to the play entirely. Not only does Nottage's work always deserve one's full attention, but this production, directed by Reginald L. Douglas, is so vibrant and alive that I could easily fill in the visuals with my imagination. For an audio play, it was a remarkably multisensory experience.

MLIMA'S TALE explores the supply chain of the international ivory trade, from poachers hunting elephants on a Kenyan game reserve to smugglers moving the contraband, to the global uber-rich who spend massive amounts of money on the illegally procured goods. The play starts with the violent murder of Mlima, "one of the last big tuskers," then throughout a series of two-person scenes, the gruesome reality of elephant hunting becomes more abstract and the characters become more willing to turn a blind eye, especially when money is involved. While the story takes place continents away, it's a very short leap from MLIMA'S TALE to the current national conversation about the greed and complicity that have always upheld the economic system in our country.

The audio production features excellent work by four actors -- Keith Randolph Smith plays Mlima, whose ghost haunts the journey of the tusks, while ensemble members Treasure Lunan, Ithica Tell, and Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr. each tackle multiple roles. Further elevating the production is Elisheba Ittoop's sound design, which gives the play a sense of place and features original compositions by Jenn Mundia. The sound was so captivating that I didn't even miss having something to look at.

MLIMA'S TALE is the second audio offering from Profile Theatre, and the first of three full-length audio plays the company is planning this season. As they work to refine the process, there are two things that would have made my listening session even more enjoyable. First, a break. The runtime is about 80 minutes, which is fine for a live show, but a little long for an audio play. A designated break would have made it easier for me to devote my full attention. Second, some sort of clue as to the settings and characters in each scene. It often took me some time to figure out what was what, especially with just three actors playing most of the roles. Short introductions, or even just a roadmap in the program, would have helped.

Overall, I found this an excellent production. I love that Profile has embraced this medium and I'm excited for what they have coming up next.

MLIMA'S TALE is available for streaming through November 4. It's free for Profile Theatre members and available for 24-hour rentals ($10-$40) for everyone else. Learn more here.

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