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Upper Theater Takes on Historically Complex Play, “Elephant’s Graveyard”

The Upper School theater will present “Elephant’s Graveyard” by George Brant on Feb. 8 and 9. Publishers of the tale call it the “tragic collision of a struggling circus and a tiny town in Tennessee, which resulted in the only known lynching of an elephant. The play, set in September of 1916, also combines historical fact and legend, exploring the deep-seated American craving for spectacle, violence and revenge.”The somber tale about the lynching of Mary the Elephant is a difficult piece that is interwoven with a time when African-American men and women were being lynched by mobs as recourse for wrongdoing without a fair trial. “’Elephant’s Graveyard’ is a very challenging script, not just in terms of its staging, but in terms of the content of the play,” said Upper theater teacher Marc Raia. “It’s based on the true story of the only known lynching of an elephant in U.S. history. As surreal as that sounds, it actually happened. This script is not only a retelling and examination of that event told from varying perspectives, but it also strongly reminds us that the lynching of Mary the Elephant took place at a time in our country’s history when lynching human beings happened every day. The play also is a reminder of how short our collective memory can be about our own country’s history.” Raia said he is very proud of the Seven Hills Upper School theater students’ work, which will feature effects, such as a big top stage and wall-to-wall 10-cu.-yd dirt flooring. Raia added that, because of the dirt flooring, audience members should plan to wear comfortable shoes to the play. “It is a difficult—but very important—play, and the cast and crew have demonstrated a great deal of maturity, sensitivity, and professionalism all throughout rehearsals. Their work on this production demonstrates that we can continue to choose very challenging material—and they meet the challenge. Trey Tatum, Seven Hills’ technical theater director, agreed, adding, “We are happy to invite the Seven Hills community out to see ‘Elephant’s Graveyard’ on Feb. 7, 8, and 9;  in terms of the script, the lights, the sound, the set design — the ‘world’ of this play — this will be a very different kind of experience for the audience.”