Elephant’s Graveyard

On January 23, Mr. J.P. Manoux’s Advanced Acting class debuted their theatrical talents with the haunting tale of a traveling circus entitled Elephant’s Graveyard.

The cast began to work on the play just after returning to school from Thanksgiving break.

mary-the-elephantThe play, originally written in 2008 by George Brant, focuses on the story of a small town in Tennessee where the tragic death of an elephant trainer sparked the even more tragic hanging of the elephant who killed him.

Mr. Manoux was deliberate in this choice of production.

I was looking for a one-act group storytelling piece to get the class up and running.  I had read George Brant’s play a few years ago and knew the tragedy of ‘Mary’ (the elephant) would resonate with Thacher students and faculty — a community of open-minded people who live and work with large animals.

The play focuses on the residents of Erwin, Tennessee in 1916, intrigued by a traveling circus that visits their town. Chaos soon ensues as Mary, said to be larger than PT Barnum’s famous Jumbo, crushes the head of an inexperienced elephant handler Walter “Red” Eldridge. The play quickly moves away from the initial shock of Red’s death, and evolves into a shocking tale of a seemingly bloodthirsty, barbaric town.

Morgana Van Peebles ‘16, who portrayed the ringmaster, spoke of the play’s switch to a shockingly horrific tragedy.

To me the most shocking part of the play was the whole second half. It starts with the parade when Red dies, and from there the level of shock and horror just pile up until the end of the play. But of the whole pay I felt that one of the hardest moments was the hanging of the elephant due to some of the graphic details and the fact that we left everyone to their imagination to conjure up the worse possible scenario of this elephant being hanged.

Raul Soto plays the Strong Man. Here he curses the enormous railroad crane that lifts the elephant. Photo Credit: Colly Smith '16
Raul Soto’14  plays an emotional Strong Man. Here he curses the enormous railroad crane that lifts Mary the elephant into the sky, believing it is taunting him. Photo Credit: Colly Smith ’16

Owen Yager ’15, who portrayed the circus clown, said that the final performance “felt great. I felt good about our timing – that was the best we had done yet. There were some choppy bits prior, but it really came together well on the last night.”

Raul Soto, who played the role of the Strong Man, spoke fondly of his work with the rest of the cast.

I love the cast. Shout out to Teo Davis, Laura Kirkland, and Briggs Boss, who joined in late because we were short a few people. Everyone was also super energetic despite the disturbing content of the play. I really enjoyed it.

Mr. Manoux  CdeP 1987 also spoke of the cast’s energy during the final performance.

I was delighted with the actors’ commitment to character and the nuance of their performances was a delightful surprise! The adrenaline of show night definitely brought out their ‘A’ game.

The performance generated overwhelmingly positive responses. Sydney Wilder ‘15 even gave it “two thumbs up.”

Kathryn Lynch’s portrayal of the Trainer, one of Mary’s only advocates, was especially well received among the student body.

Kathryn Lynch '16 plays the experienced... Photo Credit: Colly Smith '16
Kathryn Lynch ’16 plays the experienced trainer of elephant Mary. Photo Credit: Colly Smith ’16

Adam Silberberg ‘15 said of Kathryn’s performance, “I think Kathryn did a really good job. Her relationship with the elephant was really moving.”

Elephant's Graveyard Thacher Advanced ActingInga Conyngham ‘15 agreed, saying  “I thought Kathryn Lynch’s performance was extremely touching.”

As almost all who witnessed the play would agree, Elephant’s Graveyard, coupled with both the directional skills of Mr. Manoux and the heart wrenching performances by the cast, made for a thought-provoking and well-executed play.

Mr. Manoux currently is joining forces with Mrs. Vickery and Mr. Haggard in preparing for the February 14 debut of the winter musical, Anything Goes.

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