If you go in thinking you're going to see a pachyderm when you attend Going to See the Elephant, then you might be disappointed. However, the metaphor it represents is duly explained early on to avoid any unnecessary confusion. Instead, you'll be treated to a post Civil War tale of four women taking on the harshness of the Kansas prairie. It's a brilliant slice of pioneer life, buoyed by powerful performances and excellent direction. Mustard Seed Theatre's current production is a fascinating look at a bygone era.
At the Wheeler homestead, Belle “Maw” Wheeler, the resident “medicine woman” for the area, is attending to Mr. Nichols (voiced by Jesse Russell), who's come down with dysentery. His headstrong wife, Helene, is anxious to leave the prairie behind after a bad experience that took her son, but Maw knows that this is an illness not to taken lightly. Her pregnant daughter-in-law, Sarah, tends to the chores that must be done, while waiting for her husband and sons to return from town for their Fourth of July celebration. Meanwhile, their friend Etta Bailey shows up, curious as ever to see a new face, and preparing for her upcoming nuptials. Along the way, they must fend off vicious wolves and a drought.
Nancy Lewis is exceptional as Maw, determined to see her patient through to wellness, and pondering a journey to the Colorado Rockies to spend time as a nurse. Emily Baker also does fine work as Sarah, singing familiar folk songs as she tends to the laundry. She sees the beauty amidst the devastation that Kansas wilderness brings. Suki Peters is quite good as Helene Nichols, an educated woman from New York, who also happens to be a vegetarian. Jessica Haley neatly rounds out the cast as Etta, who was kidnapped by Indians before being rescued by her future husband.
Director Deanna Jent, who always does an excellent job with talented ensembles, excels again here with her tight knit cast, who are each a study in contrast. She's aided in her efforts by the rustic scenic design of Daniel Lanier and the period costumes of Jane Sullivan. Meg Brinkley contributes the believable props, and Michael Sullivan lights the action with considerable aplomb.
Going to See the Elephant is nicely realized period piece, and this production continues through September 16, 2012. Make time to see it!