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Monday, September 27, 2021

‘In whose arms shall I die?’

Written and directed by Theatre and Dance Department professor Jade Rosina McCutcheon, contemporary theater piece Elephant’s Graveyard combines the three elements of dance, song and drama onto one stage.

Eerie dance numbers (channeling the nightmarish flair of the Oompa-Loopa scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and monologues about “synthetic forms of life” comprise the dark and surreal world in which McCutcheon creates. When the audience least expects it, melodramatic and operatic singing is combined with unconventional songs about prescribed medication.

Elephant’s Graveyard presents controversial and bizarre propositions to death through science. In a scene where Eve visits Esme in a nursery home, Eve explains to her terrified mother about advancing technologies to hinder death by “severing” heads and implanting the human brain into a new body. McCutcheon intentionally leaves the audience perplexed and unsure when to laugh or gasp in fear at such morbid imagery.

The eerie and quirky tone McCutcheon establishes in the first half of Elephant’s Graveyard is what makes the play unique. However, the tone suddenly and dramatically shifts when Eve resolves her internal struggles and discovers the true meaning of life and death. Almost too abruptly, the play goes from dark to jovial – at the colorful conclusion, it’s difficult to believe a deathly man dressed in black haunted the stage moments earlier.

But ignoring some inconsistencies and shifts in feeling, Elephant’s Graveyard offers a wide range of emotional appeal that audiences of any age can take from. From a dark comedic approach of demonstrating societal abandonment of the elderly to an optimistic belief that life always works out in the end, Elephant’s Graveyard is definitely a trip through the unexpected.

Elephant’s Graveyard is expected to show at the Mondavi Center until Sunday, Nov. 1. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit mondaviarts.org.

UYEN CAO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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