North Central College - Naperville, IL

The circus comes to the stage in “Elephant’s Graveyard”

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April 12, 2011—Relive the sights and sounds of a turn-of-the-century circus when North Central College presents “Elephant’s Graveyard,” written by playwright George Brant and directed by Kelly Howe, assistant professor of theatre at North Central.

Four performances will be staged at 7:30 p.m. May 12, 13 and 14 and at 2 p.m. May 15 in the theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall, 31 S. Ellsworth St., Naperville. Tickets are $15/adults, $12/students and senior citizens; call the North Central College Box Office at 630-637-SHOW (7469) or visit

“Elephant’s Graveyard” is the true tale of the tragic collision of a struggling circus and a tiny town in Tennessee, which resulted in the only known lynching of an elephant. As punishment for killing one of its handlers, an elephant named Mary was strung up like a human criminal and executed. Brant has recounted the whole sordid story in a play that "cracks our hearts without ever showing us a drop of blood," the Austin (Texas) Chronicle said in a review of a 2007 production. The play combines historical fact and legend, exploring the deep-seated American craving for spectacle, violence and revenge.

Called “a theatrical masterpiece” by Columbia City Paper, “Elephant’s Graveyard” was awarded the 2008 Keene Prize for Literature, the 2008 David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award, and received a Best New Play citation from the Austin Critics’ Circle.

Though its title may sound morbid, the play is hilariously funny and charming in many moments, says director Howe. “And its language is gorgeous, managing to be elegantly poetic, jarringly harsh, delightfully funny and hauntingly sad, all in the same play, no less. The piece is also intellectually engrossing as it tries to make sense of a strikingly theatrical, disturbing historical event.”

The theatre’s thrust stage gives the audience a sense of a center ring in a circus, connecting audience and performers in ways that might cause spectators to find their allegiances or sympathies shifting often throughout the play. “I love that,” says Howe, “when you think you know how you feel about a character and then it changes in the blink of an eye.”

Howe hopes the audience will leave the play compelled to think about why the events on stage unfolded as they did. “What happens with Mary is not inevitable; the actions of people set it in motion and carried it through. This play may be set in 1916, but it’s also poised for a fascinating conversation with the here and now.”

Adult language is used occasionally in this play. The principal parts for North Central’s “Elephant’s Graveyard” are:

Parts: Actor, town, year, major
Ringmaster: Hywel Griffith of Pontypridd, Wales, United Kingdom, a junior majoring in theatre
Trainer: Ross McIntire of Galva, Ill., a junior majoring in theatre and English literature
Ballet girl: Savanna Richardson of Terre Haute, Ind., a freshman majoring in musical theatre
Tour manager: Eric Quinn of Naperville, a senior majoring in speech communication
Strongman: Evan Michalic of Elburn, Ill., a freshman majoring in theatre
Clown: Kevin Williams of Nashville, Tenn., a sophomore majoring in musical theatre
Drummer: Cullen Rogers of North Aurora, a freshman
Hungry townsperson: Daryn Harrell of Peoria, Ill., a junior majoring in musical theatre
Marshal: Ryan Stasell of Elburn, Ill., a freshman majoring in interactive media studies
Muddy townsperson: Chloe Mokadam of Hamburg, N.Y., a freshman majoring in art
Preacher: Colin Loeffler of Sun Prairie, Wis., a sophomore majoring in chemistry
Steam shovel operator: Don Dishman of Aurora, a sophomore majoring in music education
Young townsperson: Bethany Schick of Yorkville, Ill., a freshman majoring in theatre
Guitarist: Jessica Martin of Madison, Wis., a sophomore majoring in theatre
Engineer: Adrion Rivera of Berwyn, Ill., a senior majoring in music

Founded in 1861, North Central College is celebrating its Sesquicentennial in 2011. This community event is one of many ongoing programs at the College to enrich and broaden the cultural and academic outlook for the College and community. For a comprehensive schedule of musical performances, theatrical productions, art exhibits and lectures, visit or call the box office at 630-637-SHOW (7469).

Contact: Nancy Dunker, associate director of public relations, 630-637-5306