The Garden Theater
by Rob Win Anderson
directed by Aradhana Tiwari
Starting Elizbeth Murff and Ryleigh Lawton
Winter Garden, FL
Just how DO you hang and elephant? More importantly, why would you want to hang an elephant? Well, it did happen back a century ago in rural Tennessee. A circus elephant named Mary accidently crushed its mahout Red (Aaron Sherry) during a parade. The citizens screamed for vengeance, and the deed was done (but not well) by hauling the pachyderm up on a railroad crane. Years pass, and a reporter (Matthew Rush) drops in to get the true story from the town’s oldest citizen Bobbie Adkins (Murff and Lawton). She sticks to the official facts but the reporter senses she’s holding something back. In a well-constructed parallel of the Bobbie’s young viewpoint and old viewpoint reports the facts form different perspectives. Eventually the truth is out, and while the elephant story is one of redneck vengeance and incomitance, Adkin’s story is much juicier.
The elephant story is factual, I’ve heard this event dramatized before, but this production uses Mary’s lynching as a cover for a darker yet more common event. Bobbie grew up in a fractured household occasionally overseen by ominous Uncle Caleb (Timmy Walczak). Her best friend Willa Faye (Arielle Prepetit) is black, and Caleb isn’t fond of that fact. Willa’s daddy Reverend Moore (Johnathan Lee Iverson) dislikes the circus and asks God to bring brimstone down on it. This happens but in a more admirative way. Circus ringmaster Charlies Sparks (Dennis Marsico) struggles to promote the circus and keep his leading airiest Ambrosia Pilar (Tay Anderson) on the job and we see into the loose life style of the circus in an immensely conservative area.
The set is murky and the air full of mist on Vandy Wood’s massive set. Elephant ribs enclose the action, a small ring gives everyone a focus, and these towns people are as scary as one might expect. Ms Murff rambles and cackles but delivers the drama when its time, brash Mr. Rush exudes frustration with these towns people, and the romance between Anderson and Sherry looks doomed form the start. But my favorite character here was Mr. Iverson, he’s got the tenet revival voice complete with quaver and blood sweating from his pores. But the elephant is bigger than all of these, and the elephant lying on this stage is appear to everybody in the audience.