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May 14, 2015
Review: Mammoth
Photo credit: Nicholas Kostner.
Photo credit: Nicholas Kostner.

The Brick, where Buran Theatre is putting on Adam R. Burnett's original play Mammoth: A De-Extinction Love Story, looks built for atmospheric and thought-provoking theatre, and this play certainly seems tailored to that aesthetic. The contrast between the ideas and themes explored by Burnett's play and the simple and minuscule set allows an audience to focus on what the actors on stage are saying.  These ideas are both intriguing and heavy, such as humanity's obsession with nostalgia and the extinction of animal races, and the imminent end of our own species; despite this, the play is actually quite funny.

The play, which consists of several loosely connected scenes, begins on a frozen glacier, where a character referred to as the Beloved (Erin Mallon) is searching in the ice for a "shadow" when she is approached by another explorer, named the Lover (Starr Busby). A bizarre and absurd dialogue between the two follows before the set changes into a laboratory scene where a researcher (Kristine Haruna Lee) is caring for a fossilized mammoth tusk; she is joined by a scientist (Tina Shepard) and another researcher (played by Mallon). More absurd dialogue ensues, with scientific jargon and a long and intentionally confusing joke, and the scene eventually culminates in the reveal of the scientists' true mission in their study of mammoths, as well as a comical and unpredictable outcome for Mallon's character.

Photo credit: Nicholas Kostner.

The next scene involves three women (Mallon, Lee and Shepard), all dressed for three different climates. The three discuss days from their past involving nature and animals, but the time and/or place of this scene remains ambiguous. The play closes on a scene involving Mallon and Busby again, playing similar characters to those in the first scene but now represented as mammoths. They speak sadly to each other now and near the end they are joined onstage by a Hunter (Michael McKim), whose extensive monologue leads the play into its close, ending with an impressive musical performance by Busby.

The ideas presented here are far bigger than the space of the theater, and that allows them to be heard louder. The show isn't quite perfect: some parts of the play called for greater clarity, and there were a few instances of unneeded self-parody for the sake of easy laughter, when in fact the comedy was already present in the writing. Still, Anne Cecelia Haney and Burnett's staging is thankfully simple; it allows the message to come through clearly, and stay with you for some time afterwards.

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