Play seeks to unearth causes of human violence

The Connecticut College Theater Department presents four Fall Weekend performances of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” a play examining violence and destructive impulses. Performances are in Tansill Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 11.

In “Elephant’s Graveyard,” playwright George Brant tells the story of Mary, a circus elephant hanged in 1916 for killing an inexperienced handler. The tale is told by various characters in a documentary-style retrospective that brings modern-day concerns of violence to the fore.

“This is not just about elephants, it's about people. It's about how we deal with destructive impulses, toward each other, our planet, ourselves,” said guest director Cazimir Liske, who teaches at the Moscow Art Theater and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute. “The piece is both relevant today and challenging. Relevant because violence — the central force in the play and its real-life origins — is still something humans can’t seem to pry themselves away from. And it’s challenging because the straightforward style of storytelling required of the ensemble is very difficult.”

But his performers have risen to the challenge, immersing themselves in literature, films and documentary recordings to bring them deeper into the world of their characters. They have even conducted research off campus to better inform their performances.

“Part of their work has been to observe and interview strangers in the New London area who are physically and psychologically similar to the characters they are playing,” said Liske. “The students in this cast are brilliant. They are a very devoted ensemble, and I am learning from them every day.”

And Liske says works like “Elephant’s Graveyard” can help move society beyond our current culture of violence.

“We are changing, I think, but there are lots of wrinkles to work out before we can proclaim brotherly love, and I think making and seeing plays like this are just that kind of work — good for the mind and the soul, on the page and on the stage.”

Tickets are $15 for general admission and $8 for students. Tickets are available at the door an hour before the performance or they can be purchased in advance through the College’s box office. Call 860-439-ARTS (2787) for more information.

October 1, 2015