Ten Thousand Things Theater’s “Mlima’s Tale” by Lynn Nottage highlights the horrors of the destructive Ivory Trade. The story is seen through the eyes of Mlima, the ghost of a murdered elephant who embarks on a journey following his tusks.
Director Ansa Akyea says it’s a particularly emotional play.
“This is a play about elephant poaching and the trafficking of ivory,” explained Akyea, “from Kenya all the way through… he makes several stops and ends up in what is China effectively. And it's really painful, because you're thinking about how something so natural that is literally grown out of an animal is a thing that we covet, and that we use for money. And it really serves no medicinal purpose, it doesn't do anything except beautify or strengthen our beliefs in ourselves.”
Akyea says his identity as a Black man makes the Elephant’s desire for liberation particularly poignant.
“I believe that, as an actor, the craft has caused me to tell the truth under imaginary circumstances. So that means that no matter what I imagine, it's got to be rooted in truth,” said Akyea. “And I think this play is challenging us to see elephants, how we would see ourselves. So for me as a person of color, as a Black man as I identify, I think it's about my liberation. It's about the best part of me and fighting for that. It's about my responsibility as an artist, as a Black man, as a creative vessel while I'm on this earth, to really be rooted and clear. That's it.”
Akyea says he feels a sense of duty to use his role as a director for good.
“The reason why I said yes to doing that play for me was really to think about what I am doing with the power and the privilege that I have, right? However I present in the world, however I'm expressed in the world, and those spaces and places where I feel challenged - it's what the play is asking me to do, to really think about how I use what effect it has. Who are you surrounding yourself with? People who are influences, for better or for worse. You still have a choice you can make in those situations,” reflected Akyea.
Mlima’s Tale runs February 16 through March 12 at Open Book in Minneapolis. The theater company also presents a number of free performances with community partners at various locations in the Twin Cities.