Courtesy of the Cornell Department of Performing and Media Arts

November 29, 2021

Seven Mammoths Find Their Home at Schwartz

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The most recent production from Cornell’s Department of Performing and Media Arts, Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, has recently finished their run of shows at the Schwartz Theatre in Collegetown. Having been put on during the week before Thanksgiving break, the show offered a thoughtful respite for students struggling with last minute final projects and essays that we all seem to be endowed with at this point in the semester. 

Spearheaded by director Samuel Blake, a graduate student in PMA, the production consisted of a modest crew of seven, although it is unconfirmed whether this choice was a deliberate homage to the title of the play. Assuming the role of producer/assistant director was Abbey Crowley ’21. The two person stage management team consisted of Howard Klein as stage manager and Bella Peters serving as his assistant stage manager. The design team was split in three between Jason Simms on the scenic design, Sarah Eckert Bernstein on the costume design and finally Warren Cross on the sound design. Apart from Blake and Crowley ’21, all members of the production team were a part of the PMA faculty body.

The central focus of the play, which was penned by Cornell alum Madeline George ’96  revolves around the dean of a New England college that is struggling to balance her workload with her love life. There are calls for a new first year dormitory to be built on the site of a natural history museum that houses the titular seven mammoths. Dean Wreen (Samantha Noland ’21) must negotiate between the powerfully wealthy school donors and the sudden outcrop of student activists. Accompanying the Dean is her ex-girlfriend and fellow academic, Greer (Kit Ellsworth ’23), who has just been diagnosed with cancer and is invited to move in with Dean Wreen and the Dean’s new girlfriend, Andromeda (Yue Aki Ji ’23). Rounding out the cast of characters is the Caretaker (Trence Wilson-Gillem ’21) of the museum and four “early humans” (Sumire Doi MPS ’22, Yishan Hou ’24, Ezgi Ecem Yilmaz ’24 and Saif Leonardo Tariq Quraishi ’22).

While only consisting of two acts, the time spent in the theatre feels longer than the two hour runtime. The pacing of the play is odd, with certain sequences extending far beyond what is necessary, and others barely giving the audience a chance to breathe as it jumps from one dramatic moment to another. Numerous instances are meant to be more humorous than they are, although whether that is a quirk of the narrative style or the actors’ delivery is unclear. The manner in which the actors present their lines appears to be forced and unnatural, with a persistent condescending tone being overused by certain actors. The “early human” characters as well play a strange role in the overall narrative. There are certain times where they appear to be parallels for the modern day story between Dean Wreen, Greer and Andromeda, and there are other times where they seem to be gratuitously profane side characters that do not add much depth to the story. There is simply something jarring about watching someone dressed as a caveman say, “Yeah you look so fucking hot in that outfit.”

Out of all the performances on stage, the most consistently entertaining one hailed from Wilson-Gillem’s “Caretaker” role. His stoic demeanor on stage lent itself to a level of gravitas that the other characters did not seem to exude. When he shuffled onto stage with his old blue hat and crumpled newspaper, I felt the importance of his character, not just as someone who deals with the upkeep of the museum, but as an integral part of the historicity of the museum itself. In no way am I attempting to discredit the efforts of Noland and Ellsworth in their starring roles. However, as I was watching their performances, I was always aware that I was watching young adults attempt to portray mature, middle-aged women. 

The most impressive part of the production was the staging and set. The way in which each scene transitioned between the museum, the school office, the living room and the bedroom was simply exquisite. In particular, I enjoyed the way in which the kitchen was utilized, especially when Greer is not able to find things where they had been during her previous relationship with Dean Wreen. Furthermore, the scenes where the actors had to become immobile so as to resemble a display in a museum was done with incredibly commendable stillness. The decision to keep the displays of animals slightly off the center stage so that they would always be in the scene, no matter the setting, was also much appreciated. This specific instance was the most effective way for the audience to understand the parallels between the ancient history that was portrayed in the doomed museum and the long history between Dean Wreen and Greer that had already come to its first end by the time the play begins. 

This play was not for the uninitiated theatre goer. With complex intersections of queer romance and the struggles of accepting change in both positive and negative manners, one must truly be prepared to think throughout the entire 120 minutes. If you wish to spend your weekends relaxing in a world that seeks to dissociate you from your own, then I would recommend seeing the latest Dwayne Johnson film. However, if you are willing to embrace this elephantid-inspired production for all its quirky dialogue and heavy themes, then these seven wooly mammoths will find their home in your heart.

Tom Sandford is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].