Westport Country Playhouse will present “’Mlima’s Tale’: Discovery Series,” special programs and events, free-of-charge and open to the community, related to the powerful, theatrical fable, “Mlima’s Tale,” playing Oct. 1 - 19. The programs and events include guest speakers, post-show talkbacks, a photography exhibit, a film, and a blog series.
Written by Lynn Nottage, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and directed by Mark Lamos, Playhouse artistic director, “Mlima’s Tale” is about a magnificent and beloved Kenyan elephant named Mlima hunted for his coveted ivory tusks. As traffickers maneuver the illicit ivory market, from Kenya to Vietnam to China, the animal’s invincible spirit follows their path of desire, greed, crime, and corruption.
This is the first production of the play since its world premiere Off-Broadway last year.
“‘Mlima’s Tale’ is an extraordinarily stimulating, provocative work about something truly important, and we want to give our audiences the opportunity to delve further into the profound questions it asks about humankind and our relationship to the environment and the animal world,” said David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director. “We’re so grateful for CT Humanities’ ongoing support year after year in helping us engage our community in these kinds of thoughtful dialogues and programs that support the work on our stage.”
Guest Speakers and Panel Discussions
“A Conversation with Lynn Nottage,” playwright of “Mlima’s Tale,” was filmed during a public event on Sept. 29, as the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner discussed her play, “Mlima’s Tale,” her career, and body of work with Mark Lamos, Playhouse artistic director. Anyone who was unable to attend may access a replay of the program at westportplayhouse.org by Oct. 4.
A Sunday Symposium on Sunday, Oct. 6, following the 3 p.m. matinee performance, will feature guest speaker Joshua Williams, writer, director, teacher, and scholar. Williams will engage in conversation with David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director, about “Mlima’s Tale.” Williams currently serves as an assistant professor faculty fellow in the Drama Department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His academic research concerns the political figure of the animal in African theater and performance.
“The Ivory Trade in Connecticut and Beyond” will feature three panelists discussing their experiences with the ivory trade, ranging from government legislation to animal advocacy to on-the-ground operations, both internationally and within Connecticut, on Sunday, Oct. 13, following the 3 p.m. matinee performance. Panelists are Kenneth Bernhard, a principal with the Fairfield County law firm of Cohen and Wolf, PC., who spent many years advocating for the protection of African wildlife from illegal trafficking, and worked with the African Wildlife Services in Kenya and Senegal on anti-poaching endeavors including serving as a decoy in sting operations in Nairobi; Priscilla Feral, president, Friends of Animals, a non-profit animal advocacy organization that has supplied direct assistance to rangers in 10 African countries to bolster anti-poaching patrols and suppress the killing of elephants; and State Representative David Michel, an environmental activist; moderated by Liam Lonegan, Playhouse artistic associate/assistant director.
Other discussions include post-play dialogues on Thursdays, Oct. 3 and Oct. 10, where patrons are welcome to discuss the play and its themes with artistic staff in the Playhouse’s Smilow Lounge on the mezzanine level. Backstage Pass is set for Wednesday, Oct. 16, a behind-the-scenes look at what makes “Mlima’s Tale” work, following the 2 p.m. matinee performance. Thursday TalkBack is on Thursday, Oct. 17, a lively, 20-minute Q&A with actors from “Mlima’s Tale,” following the 8 p.m. performance.
“Playhouse Perspectives: ‘Mlima's Tale’” is a blog series exploring the themes and ideas in Nottage’s play through the unique viewpoints of seven guest authors. Essays are posted at westportplayhouse.org/MlimasTaleBlog. Guest authors include Yanoula Athanassakis, clinical associate professor of English and Environmental Studies at NYU, director of the NYU Environmental Humanities Initiative; Eleni Coundouriotis, professor of English and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, University of Connecticut; James Green, Frances and Benjamin Benenson Foundation assistant curator of African Art, Yale University Art Gallery; Jim Knox, curator of education at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo; Louisa Lombard,associate professor of anthropology, Yale University;Brenda Milkofsky, former senior curator, The Connecticut River Museum, Essex, Conn.; and Joshua Williams, assistant professor faculty fellow, Drama Department NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Photography Exhibit and Film
A photography exhibition, “Vanishing” by artists Penrhyn and Rod Cook, will be open to the public during the run of “Mlima’s Tale,” from Oct. 1 through 19, in the Playhouse’s mezzanine lobby. All artwork is offered for sale.
In addition, student matinee performances will take place during the run. Study guides will be provided by the Playhouse to connect the production to subjects in local school curricula.
An earlier event on Sept. 16 was a screening of the documentary, “When Lambs Become Lions,” directed by Jon Kasbe, about the illicit ivory market in Kenya, presented in partnership with The Westport Library and the Playhouse. A copy of the film is available at The Westport Library.
For information on all “Mlima’s Tale” special events, visit westportplayhouse.org/MlimasTaleEvents or call the box office at (203) 227-4177.
Westport Country Playhouse is located at 25 Powers Court, off Route 1 in Westport. For more information, visit westportplayhouse.org, or call the box office at (203) 227-4177 or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529.
Photo of Bernicestine MacLeod, playwright Lynn Nottage, and Westport Country Playhouse trustee Harold Bailey, Jr. (L-R) by Liam Lonegan