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Cappies: 'Elephant's Graveyard' at Francis Howell

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 13, 2013 - An elephant is an investment.” This line is said numerous times during Francis Howell High School’s performance of “Elephant’s Graveyard.” Yet, investments can go sour, and unforeseen circumstances can send seemingly perfect situations spiraling downward, as is evident in the Friday night play.

“Elephant’s Graveyard,” by George Brant, was first performed at the University of Texas in 2007. Based on a true story, the plot follows the lives of circus performers and townspeople in the small town of Erwin, Tenn., during 1916. When the circus arrives in town, trouble follows in the form of a seemingly docile elephant named Mary. As the circus is preparing for its nightly performance by parading through the town, Mary the elephant kills her rider, and the townspeople condemn Mary as a murderer. Shortly after, Mary is brought to the rail yard, where she is hung with a railroad crane.

Leading the cast is the Ringmaster of the circus, played by Alex Baumer. Baumer’s theatric, over-the-top mannerisms are fitting for the showy Ringmaster. Whenever he speaks, he commands attention, alerting the audience to whatever he has to say. Among the circus performers, Laura Haug does a fantastic job bringing the “innocent” Ballet Girl to life. Haug portrays the ballet girl with grace and true emotion, which is evident through her character growth as the play progresses.

One of the strongest characters in the show is the Tour Manager, brought to life by Aurielle Macchi. Macchi’s strict, authoritative portrayal of the Tour Manager is especially realistic through the use of a slight accent. Another standout performer is Katie Angeli in the role of the Clown. Angeli gives the basic emotions of a clown depth with her facial expressions, which reveal the true feelings of the clown even when she is not speaking.

Technical aspects of the show add simple, yet effective embellishments. The set, consisting of town buildings, such as a church or the railroad station, realistically portray the small size of the backwoods town. Enhancing the scenery is the lighting, which stays simplistic for the small town, yet adds colorful streaks of light for the circus performers. In addition, the costumes are period, with dull, dirty clothes for townspeople and bright, extravagant outfits for circus performers.

One of the best elements of the show is the impeccable timing of the performers on stage. Whether it is screaming in sync or maintaining a fluid pace between lines, awkward pauses are nonexistent. The same cannot be said for the blackouts between scenes, which are sometimes too long, causing the audience to question the possibility of another scene. Sound is another problem, as many characters are hard to hear over the original music being performed by band members in the background.

Despite minor drawbacks, the cast and crew of “Elephant’s Graveyard” produce a thought-provoking show that causes many to wonder about past reactions to death compared to today’s world.

Lucy Freitag is a student at Notre Dame High School. The Cappies program works with students who review high school theatrical productions.