by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
“To be wild is our nature — to be free.”
One of the more shocking plays happening at Fringe this year is Man’s Dominion playing at the Theatre Asylum (Elephant Studio) 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. It is completely resonant and very unexpected.
Genesis 1:26 is the biblical quote that universally grants all men dominion over beasts. But what about the beasts themselves? What do they want? Throughout time man has reserved the issue of natural dominance for himself because he possesses certain qualities that separate him from the animal kingdom. But is that entirely true? Are we very different?
What if empathy, compassion, gentleness, preference, intelligence, discernment, joy are not just the provenance of men? What if those qualities which we consider “human” extend to other two or four-legged, earth-bound, winged or finned creatures? And what if they, the animals, the beasts, can and do express these very qualities better than us? Who is more “human”?
Man’s Dominion is a horrific true story, a lost event, told in the most sympathetic of ways about an 18 year old Indian elephant named May, raised in captivity, who in 1916, in Erwin, Tennessee, is hanged by the neck until dead, for killing a man.
It had never happened before. May as described by the circus people who knew, loved, cared for, and worked side by side with her, had never given any sign of violence. In fact, she was almost the matriarch of the circus community where she had grown up; a gentle, loving, female, protective of her friends and smart enough to know when someone needed a helping hand. She never complained. She did her work day after day, faithfully.
But when a new and inexperience trainer, Red Eldridge, just two days on the job, is given not only instruction but permission to abuse May in whatever way he sees fit via a bull hook, a standard implement for keeping elephants in line, May rebels, powerfully flinging Red several feet and to the ground, then stomping on him.
May is suddenly transformed from dumb animal and endowed by the religious rabble of the town, using the Genesis quote as their most powerful argument, with anthropomorphic will and perverse behaviors as if it were a murder with full intent. From there she is deemed a killer, although not given a trial (certainly not one of her peers) and judged for execution for an act that may have been at best the reaction to a total stranger who inflicted extreme pain. Most likely she was as confused as the trainer who probably didn’t understand why she would even get as angry as she did.
Actor Tim Powell brilliantly plays 10 different characters, including May herself, to recall the events, reactions and feelings of everyone involved and May’s unbelievable demise by giant railroad cranes.
Is it fair to hold accountable and punish a creature we deem mentally, emotionally and spiritually inferior?
Man’s Dominion brings up the very question of, who are the real animals us or them? A very poignant non-fiction, it is an absolute must see for the content, the direction and the delivery.
One response to “Fringe Up HFF14: ‘Man’s Dominion’”
This I have to see! WoW!!!