Monday, April 30, 2018

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Mlima's Tale -- TOP PICK

Sahr Ngaujaht. Photo: Joan Marcus

Mlima's Tale
By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Jo Bonney
The Public Theater
Extended through June 3
By Lauren Yarger
Pulitzer-Prize winner Lynn Nottage (Ruined; Sweat) brings to life an African elephant in the world premiere of Mlima, getting its world premiere at the Public Theater. The production, directed by Jo Bonney, is as visually stunning as the words are poet. 

Mlima (Sahr Ngaujah) is one of the last huge "tuskers" in Kenya (his name means "mountain." He has spent the last years of his life avoiding his wife and children to protect them from poachers who track Mlima for his massive, perfectly symmetrical tusks which will bring bucks on the illegal ivory market. When the poachers finally catch up with Mlima, his spirit follows his tusks as they make their way from the poachers and corrupt government officials to the studio of a sculptor and ultimately, to the home of a wealthy buyer eager to impress visitors to her new apartment with her newly acquired treasure. Mlima's spirit also haunts those who have killed him for greed and marks them with guilt.

Kevin Mambo, Jojo Gonzalez and Ito Aghayere play the various people coming in contact with Mlima and his tusks. Justin Hicks provides music and original composition which, alsong with Sound design by Darron L. West, help set the mood. Riccardo Hernandez's exquisite set design dramatically takes the tale from the plains of Africa to a New York penthouse with simple sliding panels and lighting by Lap Chi Chu.

Nottage, who based the play on an article, "The Ivory Highway" by Damon Tabor, gives Mlima a dynamic voice and lets us see the horrors of the ivory trade without being preachy. She expertly does it all in 80 minutes without an intermission. . Ngaujah skillfully creates a character who is a wild, proud African elephant, but also conveys common human emotions about love, freedom and family. Movement Director Chris Walker and Fight director Thomas Schall help Ngaujah express Mlima in choreography and ballet-like fluidity that allow us to envision a massive elephant on stage. It is truly a remarkable piece of theater.

Mlima's Tale has been extended at the Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette St., NYC through June 3. Perfromances are Tuesday through  Friday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 8 pm. Tickets start at $85:
Additional credits:
Hair and makeup design by Cookie Jordan.
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Violence

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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