Cappies program, where high school students trained as critics submit reviews of high school theater performances.Editor's note: The following review was submitted to Patch through the
By Maura O'Reilly of Washington Lee High School
Silhouettes of characters against a deep blue background. Sniffles in
the silence. This simple picture created the final image of Oakton High
School's poignant production of Elephant's Graveyard.
Based off of a true story, George Brant's 2008 play Elephant's Graveyard
tackles the issue of inhumanity and the emotional journey of a town in
the midst of a tragedy, and is often discussed as being written as an
allusion to capital punishment. Mary the Elephant
was the main attraction in Sparks World Famous Shows Circus, a
cross-country traveling spectacle. In the town of Erwin, Tennessee in
1916, a wannabe elephant trainer was killed by
Mary after he tried to keep her in line during the traditional
pre-circus parade. After this catastrophe, the townspeople of Erwin
insist on ridding the world of this “murderer” by hanging her from a
railroad crane. After a brutal and botched first attempt and a
successful second try, the emotions of the town begin to change.
With minimal set, subtly powerful lighting, and a cohesive ensemble,
Oakton's production evoked sniffles as well as chuckles from the
audience. All of the elements were carefully interwoven to create a
highly believable world with perfect balance between the
lightheartedness of a coming circus and the despair of a tragedy and
Christine Cox led the cast as the ringleader. A joy to watch, Cox
embodied a sleazy yet affectionate ringmaster who cares only for the
well being of her circus, at least for the first half of the play. The
raw hopelessness and distress that shone through her ringleader facade
when she realized that her beloved moneymaker elephant was more than just a prop was honest and heartbreaking.
A clumsy showgirl disguising herself as a ballerina, Emilia Brennan
displayed the perfect amount of awkward as the Ballet Girl with her
attempts at being graceful by pointing her feet and prancing around the
stage. Hailey Dougherty as the Muddy Townsperson drew giggles from the
audience with her crazy attitude and eager energy and excitement. Alex
James as the Trainer was authoritative and jealous, yet had the right
touch of caring and sympathy for his closest friends, the elephants.
Grant Seastream as the Engineer also brought a powerful presence with
his pride for the railroad taking precedent over his feelings for the
situation. Seastream also managed to draw audible reaction from the
audience, in the form of scoffs of frustration with his character.
The three-person band, Walter and the Dirty Boots (John Fee, Jack
Goodin, and Justin Pirrochi), was a clever addition. Providing a mostly
original or freshly arranged underscore for the whole show, the
transitions between pieces were unnoticeable with each song becoming
more dark as the story progressed. To further supplement the story, the
band also supplied sound effects such as a train clackity-clacking its
way down the tracks.
The minimal set was effective in helping focus the story on the action
instead of the surroundings. When there was more than just a curtain,
the set was magnificently simple. The centerpiece was a multicolored
circus tent, raised from the ground by the actors. To accompany the set,
the lighting design by Jess Farham was exquisite, with mood lighting
emphasizing the action in each scene. A highlight was the almost
unnoticeable fade to a stark red during the killing of the untrained elephant trainer.
Clocking in at a perfect length of 75 minutes, the entire cast of Oakton High School's Elephant's Graveyard
should be commended for producing an emotionally challenging show that
was deceptively complicated and left most of the audience in tears.
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