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CHAMPAIGN — The Sparks World Famous Circus rolls into a humdrum town of Tennessee. That should be fun.

But in Parkland College’s production of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” which opens tonight, the cracks begin to appear in the town of Erwin, and there are hard times ahead.

Director Latrelle Bright said she suggested this play to Parkland for varied reasons — “practical reasons being cast size and character variety,” with a ringmaster, a strongman and a ballet dancer, not to mention the elephant.

“The artistic reasons have to do with my attraction to old-school storytelling,” Bright said.

“This story is told mostly in direct address monologues, and each character is archetypal, and each represents a different way of seeing and thinking about the tragedy that unfolds before them.”

She enjoys the challenge of the lack of stage directions.

“The playwright simply requests that the staging not be redundant to what is spoken,” she said.

“This is my kind of show, one where there is a great deal of freedom to imagine the world and create a substantial part of it with just the storytellers’ bodies and voices.”

There are even lyrics to a song with no sheet music.

Bright loves the story itself.

“One of my favorite quotes is from Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Dust Tracks on a Road.’ It reads: ‘I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her.’ Truth-telling is at the core of how I fight for America to be better than she is,” Bright said.

“I do this through theatre. There are some truths we would prefer not to acknowledge. The truth of the effects of our ‘dominion’ over nature — and it’s all nature. The ways in which these acts crush us or make us feel larger than life.”

The staging is unique.

“This is a physical show with bodies moving through the space to amplify the energy of the moment. But it is also still, feeling more like folks sitting around a campfire relaying the part of the story they remember,” she said. “And, due to my set designer’s (Mike O’Brien) work with puppetry, we have incorporated some shadow puppetry for heightened moments.”


Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).