“It’s A Scary Old World”: Lunchbox Theatre’s The Life History of The African Elephant Delights

First performed in 1989, then again in 2001, Clem Martini’s The Life History of The African Elephant returns to Lunchbox Theatre to open the company’s 2014-15 season. Directed by Bartley Bard, the production sees the original cast returning for this third outing of Martini’s comedy.

The Life History of The African Elephant stages the unlikely friendship that develops between accident-prone, ceramic artist Florence Bond (Barbara Gates-Wilson) and Glen Beddoes (David LeReaney), a reserved elephant trainer. After crashing her car through Glen’s backyard and into his shed, Florence goes to the zoo enclosure where he works to apologize. Inside the enclosure, Florence discovers that Glen is trying to help an elephant overcome its depression. Florence tells Glen that she will return again, but next time with her older brother Phillip (Brian Jensen) who will be visiting on his day pass from prison. Over a late-night picnic at the zoo, Florence, Glen, and Philip try and sort out their childhoods and anxieties about the future.

Martini’s play has a great deal of heart.

The Life History of The African Elephant offers simple meditations on life, adulthood in particular. Not only does Martini manage to craft two characters who feel as though we could meet them on the street one day, he also asks an interesting question: does adulthood have to be lonely? The small, but ultimately significant, act of reaching out on Florence’s part inspires Glen and herself to move beyond the loneliness they have allowed themselves to grow into.

Some audience members may be put off by the amount of talk in the play, while others may take to appreciate Martini’s quirky, but heartfelt dialogue.

Set designer Terry Gunvordahl delivers a clean, aesthetically pleasing set.

The use of projection in this production, however, does little to impress. Towards the end of the play, Florence, Glen, and Phillip each step upstage into a spotlight to deliver monologues. The blocking gives enough impact to the revelations at hand. Yet, for some reason, the director has chosen to project various still images of children’s faces beside each character when they speak. Considering how poorly lit and distracting they are, the projections fail to add anything that the blocking does not achieve already.

Gates-Wilson succeeds in bringing enough charm and comedic timing to the role of Florence that her neuroticism comes off as endearing, rather than exhausting. LeReaney does very well in playing the straight man to Florence’s antics while also maintaining his own presence. The natural chemistry between the two actors leaves us smiling from end to end.

From top to bottom, Lunchbox Theatre’s recent production of The Life History of The African Elephant shows just why the play has become an audience favorite. The company’s 2014-15 season is off to a strong start.

Lunchbox Theatre’s production of The Life History of The African Elephant runs from Sept 29 – Oct 18.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.lunchboxtheatre.com/calendar/2014/9/29/the-life-history-of-the-african-elephant-by-clem-martini?view=calendar

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