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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Sideshow Physical Theatre presents Elephant’s Graveyard

Growing old is often a daunting task that can leave anyone bewildered, perplexed and perhaps, at some point, abandoned in a depressingly isolated nursing home. And if you don’t believe it, check out Sideshow Physical Theatre’s latest play, Elephant’s Graveyard.

The play, written and directed by Australian scholar Jade Rosina McCutcheon, delves deeply into the lives of two women – Esme (a lonely mother and grandmother) and Eve (her busy and career-obsessed daughter).

The play starts out in gloom as Esme desperately pleads Eve for the least bit of love and attention. Esme’s raw stress of emotions and desire for love is carried out by the songs of her soul – yes, her soul – sung by Australian singer and actress Kim Deacon.

On the surface, the play may seem to reflect the issues of aging and abandonment, but it also directs the limelight onto real social issues that we rarely think about today.

“It’s not so much the fear of old age,” McCutcheon said, “But in 2030, we’ll have more than 30 million people over 65 years of age, and we don’t have the utility to handle that.”

McCutcheon said at the same time, scientists are still working on solutions.

“Nursing homes may be the popular choice, but I don’t think it’s a very compassionate thing to do, and I don’t think it’s the way to go to be abandoned by your family,” McCutcheon said.

By exposing the public to the issues presented in this play, she said that she hopes Elephant’s Graveyard will be something for everybody to carefully consider, no matter what age.

The cast’s intimate performance is earnest yet humorous at the same time, permitting us to question the realities of elderly life in a nursing home. Where will our children be when we die? What will happen to our souls? What is the importance of religion, or having our families nearby?

Because really, as cliché as it may sound, what exactly is the point of living life without love, knowing that the inevitable outcome of death is awaiting us?

Bella Merlin is an actress trained in the UK and Russia. She plays Eve in Elephant’s Graveyard.

“We’ve all been children, and we’ve all had parents,” Merlin said. “We know what’s coming.”

There are also many moments of ridiculousness in this poignant mother-and-daughter story that explore the complex emotions involved in one’s passing of age.

In one scene, a deeply unsettling yet oddly entertaining dance depicts the darkness of life in a nursing home where a team of pharmacists and nurses are seen as villains in the eyes of the elders.

“I think it’s impossible for the play to not have [a] dark comedy effect,” McCutcheon said. “Sometimes, we just have to laugh at these things because we feel so powerless.”

The play, which combines with artistic tapestry all the different styles of theatre – layering music, dance, realism and costume – is what Merlin describes as “epic.”

The impressive creative team ranges from Emmy Award-winning lighting designer Thomas Munn to costume designer Maggie Morgan, who has worked with costumes on well-known sets such as Mona Lisa Smile and Men in Black.

“The young people working on this are terrific, considerate and talented,” said Dorris Beresford, who plays one of the many elders. “That being said, I’d be happy to turn the world over to them.”

Elephant’s Graveyard, full of great artists and actors, will premiere its first show Saturday, Oct. 23 at the Mondavi Studio Theatre. Don’t forget to take your friends, parents or elders – as they will be sure to laugh and cry.

More information about the show can be found at theelephantsgraveyard.com.

VANNA LE can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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