Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Tale of Tusks

This past weekend I was fortunate to be in a front row seat, to experience the new play by the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage. Mlima's Tale is a sordid story of human corruption set against the backdrop of the horrid poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks.

The story begins in the forests of Kenya as a grand old tusker named Mlima, the nation's pride, is mercilessly killed by a poacher. Mlima's twenty two feet long tusks are a rare find and become the prize possession of a corrupt high ranking police officer who secretly funds poachers. The killing of Mlima sets off a firestorm, much like the killing of Cecil the Lion did in reality, a few years ago. The play then tracks the journey of the tusks from the safe-house of the poachers in Kenya to the living room of a wealthy Chinese businessman.

The play is striking in its visualization and stage craft. Its minimalism forces you to focus on the narrative as it meanders from one scenario to another. With four actors (one being the elephant) playing almost a dozen characters, seamlessly transforming accents and wardrobe, with only a chair and a table for props, the play creates atmosphere through sound effects, lighting and the projection of words on a screen.

All the characters are tainted as they facilitate the transport of the tusks driven by greed and the inexplicable nature of humanity. Lynn Nottage through the power of word, carefully and meticulously exposes the avarice and hypocrisy that has come to define our very existence on this earth.

Each scene is punctuated by a phrase, which I am assuming are Kenyan proverbs translated into English.

The final proverb that ties it all together and leaves a profound impact is -

"Human greed is like a snake trying to swallow an elephant"

A snake may never attempt to swallow an elephant. But humans are on course to swallowing the very planet they call home.

It is what it is.