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Review: MLIMA'S TALE at 1st Stage Theatre

Review: MLIMA'S TALE at 1st Stage Theatre

The production runs from September 15th through October 9th

By 2040, African elephants will go extinct due to poaching, if no action is taken. How can we as humans understand what elephants go through? It's about perspective. We need to understand how the elephant feels.

In 1st Stage's production of Mlima's Tale, written by award-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Mlima (Jeremy Keith Hunter) is an elephant who has seen a lot over his longlife on a wildlife preserve in Kenya. However, his life is cut short due to the greediness of poachers looking to make big bucks off of Mlima's symmetrical tusks. What becomes of Mlima after his tragic death?

1st Stage's production of Mlima's Tale, directed by José Carrasquillo, is a surreal approach to what happens to Mlima after his death.

It's easy to assume that Mlima is going to be played by a puppet, but that isn't the case. An actor plays Mlima, which humanizes the elephant and provides deeper meaning to the play. The extremely talented Jeremy Keith Hunter plays Mlima with such passion and grace. Even after Mlima's death, Hunter remains a haunting presence on stage as he witnesses the illegal exchange of his tusks from the spirit world. When Mlima is happy, we feel his energy. When Mlima cries, we feel his grief.

Mlima's tusks are exchanged through many different hands. The ensemble includes Shaquille Stewart, Deidra LaWan Starnes, and Andrew V. Ly. They play multiple roles with ease-from art dealers to journalists to poachers. There aren't any props in this production and they do a remarkable job of miming. It's almost as if the objects themselves are physically there.

One of the most powerful scenes happens on a boat. A chilling moment in the cargo hold turns into a time of connection, as voices of deceased elephants call out their names in a round. The sound, designed by David Lamont Wilson, shines as the audience becomes bathed in the sounds of elephants calling out their names.

The set, designed by Giorgos Tsappas, is like a real life Dali painting. Ivory tusks protrude out from the stage. White rock formations frame the outer edges of the stage. Later on in the play, these rock formations serve as a canvas to display projections, designed by Jon Roberts. A white runway-like structure is featured center stage, and adjacent to this runway is a white pedestal, foreshadowing how Mlima's tusks will eventually become "art." Moyenda Kulemuka's costume design for Mlima is beautifully designed. The design itself is transformative. Over time, Mlima's tribal paint becomes smudged as his tusks are passed from one person to another.

1st Stage's Mlima's Tale is a surreal and emotional experience that shouldn't be missed.

Running Time: 90 minutes within an intermission

1st Stage's production of Mlima's Tale runs from September 15, 2022 until October 9, 2022. Tickets can be purchased here.

Banner image caption & credit: Deidra LaWan Starnes, Shaquille Stewart and Jeremy Keith Hunter in "Mlima's Tale", at 1st Stage, September 15-October 9, 2022. Photography by DJ Corey Photography.


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