‘Elephant’s Graveyard’ examines humanity’s darker side

Joining the community of actors is somewhat like joining the circus. Both require a leap of faith and a willingness to embrace a dubious profession and eccentric life. The goal of both endeavors is to put on a show.

The talented ensemble of “Elephant’s Graveyard”—being performed by the Over The Ledge Theatre Company—can certainly boast of putting on a show.

The “Sparks Circus” featured Ndegwa McCloud as the imposing Ringmaster, Hannah Feuka as the hoop-twirling, confessional Circus Girl, and Ian Henretty was the sensitive, silly-garbed clown.

Jim Coyer played the kindhearted elephant trainer.

In the “Elephant’s Grave yard” version of a circus, the ringmaster’s focus was on profiting from his investments. The girl—who in something-likea-saloon-whore outfit— graphically embraced her sexuality; and the clown cried real tears. And the trainer? He had the task of leading their prized pachyderm, Mary, to a special gallows for a gruesomely described demise.

Many of the townspeople of Erwin, Tennessee—where the events of “Elephant’s Graveyard” actually took place in 1916— were portrayed with dark sides. Justin E. Brewer, as the realistically drunken steam shovel operator, mostly operated the screw top to his flask. The likeable, peanut-munching townsperson Ja’nay Duncan, matter-of-factly reminded the audience of less-reported hangings of southern black men. Hunter Folleth’s marshal ranted about how great America was because of its ability to achieve—no matter how horrific those achievements might be. And the sweetheart image of the young townsperson played by Sarah Hoogstraten changed when she kept repeating how things almost made her and others piss themselves.

“Elephant’s Graveyard” had roles which seemed much more gratifying for the cast to perform than they were for me to watch. Nor was it easy for me to observe Marley—a live terrier/poodle mix—the town dog, as he flinched at whip crackings, foot stampings, and actors’ yelling. “Elephant’s Graveyard” was not a circus show for kids—or anyone who did not consider grisly descriptions entertaining.

George Brant’s script seemed designed to shock a mature, sophisticated audience. The repeated gasps the sparse opening night audience made were proof he succeeded. Even though we were spared any visual images of an elephant being hung and pulled apart, the play had explicit dialogue that invoked the horrific images.

That’s not to say I wasn’t engaged by the 75 minute, no-intermission show. Mostly accurate and distinct costumes by Amy Francisco and a colorful set adorned with hand-drawn circus posters held my attention. There were times before the unhappy ending that I laughed. Director Gabriel Franscisco was the real-life ringmaster who craftily kept 14 unique actors interacting. He also had a hand in creating sound effects that were unusually realistic.

When visiting the Ledges Playhouse in Grand Ledges’ Fitzgerald Park, one should keep in mind that hot summer nights outside can be even hotter inside the unair conditioned 348-seat theatre. To cope with the heat, cool drinks are offered and patrons are encouraged to bring their own into the once-a-barn playhouse. To cope with the often-upsetting “Elephant’s Graveyard,” I was sorry I only brought ice water.

“Elephant’s Graveyard”

Over the Ledge Theatre Co. Thursday, July 13, 8 p.m.; Friday, July 14, 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 15, 8 p.m.; Sunday, July 16, 2 p.m. $12/$10 Seniors (55+)/$7 Students The Ledges Playhouse 137 Fitzgerald Park Drive, Grand Ledge, (517) 230- 9593, overtheledge.org