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Mlima's Tale

From 31 critic and 138 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Relevant

About the show

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage returns to the Public with a new drama, which takes us on a journey that starts in a game park in Kenya and goes around the world. More…

'Mlima's Tale' is the story of Mlima, a magnificent elephant trapped in the clandestine international ivory market. Following a trail of greed and desire as old as trade itself, Mlima leads us through memory and fear, history and tradition, and want and need. Obie Award winner Jo Bonney directs this poignant new play that explores the surprising and complicated deals that connect us all.  

Front Row Center

"'Mlima’s Tale' is a shattering work...A tight, unsparing script...A director and four actors of immense talent...Everyone knows that there are things, moves, that a body cannot do. Cannot. Nope. Contortions and expansions that would turn a man into an elephant of physical, emotional and mental majesty. It is pretty much impossible. Lucky for us, Sahr Ngaujah did not get that memo, because the leap he takes into this impossible sphere is astonishing....'Mlima’s Tale' is a play not to be misse... Full Review

New York Stage Review

"An engrossing web that will likely grasp your conscience and stay with you...Nguajah is not 'playing' an elephant. Rather he is an everyman...this is a stunning performance, at some times almost painful to watch but at all times impossible to turn away from...Nottage has set Bonney to work on a deceptively-simple bare stage...The results are remarkable...It's hard to fathom how the Public production can be bettered...As for Nottage, this is yet another towering American drama." Full Review


"Lynn Nottage constantly astonishes. The author of 'Intimate Apparel' and the recent Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Sweat' is now represented by 'Mlima's Tale' at the Public Theater's Martinson Hall, a heartbreaking examination of the illegal trade in ivory and its toll on elephants and humans alike." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

"A highly artistic exposé of a scandalous wildlife dilemma…that fills its…80 minutes with fascinating information contained in dramatically compelling scenes…Ngaujah, gifted with physical and vocal beauty, makes the pachyderm a hauntingly tragic presence; he need merely stand there…for you to feel how deeply he's invested. Aghayere, Gonzalez, and Mambo…play their multiple roles with exceptional versatility, altering their accents and attitudes with spot-on accuracy." Full Review


"A fascinating story of human greed...A terrific play. Ngaujah gives a mesmerizing performance as do the three other actors who nimbly play the many characters involved in the story...With Bonney at the helm, 'Milma's Tale' is given a visually and aurally powerful production...While Ngaujah is silent throughout, except for his moving opening and closing monologue his silent presence brilliantly exemplifies that you don't need words to convey alarm, pain and despair." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"Nottage has written a powerful play, creatively performed by a superb cast and spellbindingly directed...It succeeds by combining impressionism and reality to make for a unique theater experience...The show’s magic rests largely on the impressionistic portrayal of Mlima...The magisterial physicality of Ngaujah and his balletic artistry...This is one of the season’s most essential and meaningful productions, with an impact far beyond its 80-minute intermission-less length." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"A stunning new play...The glory of Mlima's story is how Nottage and her gifted director, Bonney, tell it in theatrical terms...Ngaujah is magnificent...He writhes his stately body in dance/theatre style...Three other actors play multiple roles with precision and virtuosity...Nottage's powerful parable extends beyond the specifics of illegal ivory trading. It reminds us that we are citizens of one planet, and that we are all exploiting our natural environment." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"There's nothing especially surprising about Nottage's tale, but her narrative method is so elegant and her character sketches so incisive that they keep us vitally interested ....Beginning with her adept handling of the well-chosen cast, Bonney's direction allows 'Mlima's Tale' to unfold in unusually seamless fashion...It is easy to marvel once again at Nottage's versatility. She is unmatched in her skill at immersing herself in factual material out of which she creates a compelling drama." Full Review

The New York Times

"Nottage’s beautiful, endlessly echoing portrait of a murder and its afterlife...Nottage and her director have shaped this story with such theatrical inventiveness and discipline that it never feels sensational, on the one hand, or pious, on the other...She packs a wealth of cultural, political, and economic detail into each scene...Yet the facts, figures, and folklore never feel jimmied in; the exchange of information among the characters is fluid and always appropriate to the circumstances." Full Review


"Nottage's unrelenting machine of a play...Audiences won't soon forget the anguished wail of its title character...In many ways, 'Mlima's Tale' is a sharper critique of capitalism than Nottage's last play, 'Sweat'...A model of efficiency. The three players portray every human, using subtle physicality and muted accents to distinguish roles without slipping into caricature...Eighty straight minutes of searing brilliance." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"A riveting haunting piece of theatre...Ngaujah portrays 'Mlima,' in a series of contorted movements...His striking visual presence is slightly diminished when he speaks. It is full of fury and loud, even when he is speaking of his beloved family...Aghayere, Gonzalez, Mambo are amazing as they cross racial and gender boundaries portraying multiple characters...Bonney's unusual staging is unsettling and I do not think I will ever be able to look at a piece of ivory without feeling the horror." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"It’s crafted with such empathy and wisdom...The overall effect is powerful and moving, guiding us through the web of human forces that make up the problematic and illegal industry of poaching. 'Mlima’s Tale' doesn’t try to solve the difficult issue, as it is far too complex to tackle within this presentation, but the white streaked imagery will leave us all stained as we take in the grandness of this animal and the profound emotional response to his death, feeling in someway complicit." Full Review


"With his lean, muscular physique suggesting the massive size and elegant curves of 'big tusker' elephant hesitantly surveying the evening landscape of his savannah terrain, Sahr Ngaujah gives a captivating performance, poetic in both movement and emotion...It's said that, without a proper burial, elephants will haunt their killers forever. Mlima indeed remains a presence throughout director Jo Bonney's graceful Public Theater production." Full Review

New York Daily News

"A haunting drama about avarice and ivory...The subject matter isn’t ground-breaking, but Nottage’s by turns lacerating and lyrical play leaves a mark. So does Mlima (Sahr Ngaujah, an actor with a mighty physical presence and voice) on the greedy murderers, middle-men, and millionaire collectors connected to his death. They’re deftly played by Ito Aghayere, Jojo Gonzalez and Kevin Mambo. Musician Justin Hicks adds sonic textures to Jo Bonney’s fluid and striking staging." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"This monstrous tale is relayed with exquisite detail and stirring magical realism...Ngaujah dominates the stage with an incomparable strength and persona. His Mlima is larger than life and transcends pain and death...Under Bonney's fluid direction, the scenes move seamlessly from one to the other...Counterpoints every 'tale' of greed, deceit, dishonesty, and equivocation extant in every transaction - economic or political - that threatens the spiritual core of the global community." Full Review

Theater Life

“Features innovative and spare staging...This incisive 80-minute explosive device of a play follows the spiritual voyage of Mlima, a beloved Kenyan National Park elephant murdered for his prodigious tusks...Based on an article by Damon Tabor, Nottage’s cynical roundelay of greed maps out the trial of corruption which makes such cruelty commonplace and lucrative...All of the human roles are played with dexterity and diversity...‘Mlima’s Tale’ is a harrowing trip, but well worth taking.” Full Review

Daily Beast

"Passionate, but the drama is less in speech than in movement...The play follows the death and desecration of a wild and iconic African elephant...whose plundered tusks we asked to imagine in the muscular, graceful shape of actor Ngaujah...His performance is a ghostly ballet as the other actors play a variety of characters...Bonney's taut direction brings to life both the grimly real, and lyrical and spiritual...It is Ngaujah's presence as 'Mlima' himself that is the most commanding on stage." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Lynn Nottage’s new play still packs a revelatory punch that opens up a clandestine world of poaching, smuggling, hustling and master craftsmanship...Kevin Mambo, Jojo Gonzalez and Ito Aghayere juggle their countless parts with remarkable dexterity and macabre wit...Whereas 'Sweat' seemed too predictable and formally schematic, 'Mlima’s Tale' is well served by a looser dramatic structure adapted from 'La Ronde.'" Full Review

New York Stage Review

"The imaginative nature of Nottage’s latest play, and how beautifully her text has been realized by Jo Bonney’s fine production, makes for an especially resonant stage work...The subtle, sometimes sanctimonious double-talk in which these people bargain and extort and trade for the ivory between each other is chilling to hear...Although a certain inevitability creeps into the progression of the story, the drama’s brevity, fluency, and rueful content more than compensate." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Director Jo Bonney’s beautiful production traces the path of Mlima’s prized tusks through the international ivory market...'Mlima’s Tale' has an exceptional cast, whose four actors of color play multiple roles (sometimes transracially). The world Nottage has brought to the stage is rich with detail, its characters complex and engaging. The epic journey falls short only in its foreseeable and somewhat anticlimactic ending." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"Ngaujah evokes Mlima with only the subtle, lumbering grace of his movements...A round, complex, and quite stunning portrait of this animal's pain and deep emotions...Through the inventive, sensitive performance of Ngaujah. Without tricks of theater or staging, the actor finds communion with the soul of an elephant, at once revealing unexpected emotions and signaling that more oceans of passion reside within Mlima than the stage could contain." Full Review

New York Theater

"The unusual new play is staged poetically by Jo Bonney, with a memorable performance by Sahr Ngaujah...The quick-change artistry of the three actors is impressive, although it’s not always clear who they’ve become. The corruption feels well researched, although it’s a sad comment on modern times that there is little surprising in the characters’ duplicity, and it starts to feel repetitive. What stays engaging is the beautiful stagecraft." Full Review

AM New York

"Three versatile 'players' cross racial and gender boundaries to portray numerous figures, ranging from corrupt bureaucrats and traders to a cargo ship captain and sculptor...Nottage’s underlying notion (that people from all kinds of backgrounds can easily become engaged in unethical activities) is genuinely unsettling. It turns what is a highly unusual drama about an elephant into a tragedy with universal implications." Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"All these people are played by three fine actors...Occasionally I became confused about who they were playing at any given moment...Nottage attempts with intermittent success to give the characters enough individuality to keep them from seeming just cogs in a machine. Her most stunning creation is Mlima, charismatically portrayed by Sahr Ngaujah...It’s all admirable, but a bit remote and didactic, unlike previous plays by Nottage that I have enjoyed." Full Review

Village Voice

"The subject of 'Mlima's Tale' is, quite literally, the elephant in the room. Mlima, embodied onstage with heart-rending roars and writhings by...Ngaujah...Three actors play all the human roles, sliding with ease among a string of ethnic and gender identities...A running irony is that Nottage makes every scene contain praise of the magnificent beast...Bonney's production enhances the stark and quiet ironies of Nottage's script." Full Review

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Profound

See it if You enjoy seeing talented actors performing different roles. Are interested in the illegal ivory trade.

Don't see it if Prefer upbeat plays. This is not light entertainment.

Great acting, Great writing, Masterful, Great staging, Absorbing

See it if Watching Sahr Ngaijjah transform himself into an elephant, listening to Lynn Nottage's words leaves you breathless

Don't see it if I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't love this show. It's what theatre is all about.

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound

See it if you want to see riveting performances by 4 actors who play multiple roles, a superb script, great music and fantastic direction. Brilliant!

Don't see it if you don't like dramas.

Ambitious, Intelligent, Profound

See it if You want to grow as an artist and consumer of quality theatre. The foley artistry alone is worth it. The entire production is awe-inspiring!

Don't see it if you hate elephants.

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Great acting, Great staging

See it if Out of ordinary Intellectually interesting Unique staging Animal rights

Don't see it if Disturbing Not funny

Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if Lynn Nottage's tale of greed, animal cruelty, and an indictment of waste in our society. Great cast, amazing staging. Difficult to watch.

Don't see it if you are indifferent to global waste and animal cruelty.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Must see

See it if ILynn Nottage is brilliant, the killing of a renowned elephant is a tale on many different levels..It’s timely, emotiional,beautiful disturb

Don't see it if If you want a big in your face show,this is not for you

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing

See it if you want amazing acting, staging and writing.This is the real deal.This is why there IS a Public Theatre.Riveting. Powerful. Relevant

Don't see it if you thought Jersey Boys and Mama Mia were the height of theatre.This will make you think, break your heart, and amaze you. Brilliant.

Exquisite, Excellent directing, Poetic, Stunning writing, Impressive

See it if You want a deeply nuanced story, with excellent direction and writing that is swiftly paced and yet subtle in metaphor.

Don't see it if You should see it.

Also This piece is so layered in it's examination of society's complicity i... Read more Read less

Relevant, Must see, Intelligent, Great writing, Great acting

See it if Brilliant drama that skillful portrays the illegal ivory trade in Africa.

Don't see it if You have no interest in the survival of endangered species animals.

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if you like to see theatre that evokes many different thoughts and feelings using dance, staging, and lighting plus amazing acting

Don't see it if you don't like focusing on themes relating to commerce and exploitation

Absorbing, Great staging, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if you want to see a human capture the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and movement of an elephant in a magnificent performance by Sahr Ngaujah.

Don't see it if you do not like plays that "teach" you something or make you think about an issue you do not think about often.

Also The African proverbs, the sparse but perfect scenery, the music, and t... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Masterful, Resonant, Great acting

See it if You want a powerful theatrical experience.

Don't see it if You prefer a light-hearted play. This one is not.

Absorbing, Great acting, Epic, Masterful, Thought-provoking

See it if You want to see excellent writing and staging carried by really excellent acting in a play that speaks to the universality of greed and love

Don't see it if You do not like edgy and serious drama or you do not like a play that commands your full attention from beginning to end

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Intense, Riveting

See it if you want to witness a powerful performance by Sahr Ngaujah as the elephant. His movements are extraordinary!

Don't see it if you don't like casts that play multiple roles and are looking for something light.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing

See it if Very creative telling of pattern of cruel and inhumane treatment of elephants in today’s world

Don't see it if Silly, mindless fluffy theater is your thing

Creative, Important, Absorbing

See it if you like dramatic stories in a sociopolitical context

Don't see it if the topic is going to be too upsetting for you or you do not have an interest in it to begin with

Also Lynn Nottage, playwright, is a major player on the New York theater sc... Read more Read less

Entertaining, Great acting, Absorbing, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if you enjoy magical realism, but also want a serious play. Very amazing acting.

Don't see it if you want something light-hearted, or if you do not like straight serious plays.

Also By far my favorite thing I have seen at the Public. I tried to go on S... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Riveting, Relevant, Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if Intense, creative terrific performances very original production & important subject. Lynn Nottage doesn't fail to excite.

Don't see it if For Light fluffy musical. Don't like Interesting theater in intimate settings with actors playing multiple roles.

Intelligent, Great writing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if Nottage's play is engaging, wonderfully theatrical political theater;simply done yet conveys the horror and complexity of its subject

Don't see it if You prefer realistic to minimal, imaginative style, don't care to see small cast playing many roles or a thoughtful play on a serious topic

Also Jo Bonney's direction is brilliant as is the set and lighting design. ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Must see

See it if You appreciate superb writing, acting and directing, and are interested in the serious issue of elephant poaching. Lynn Notage is a genius.

Don't see it if There is no reason not to see it!..unless you prefer musicals.

Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Must see, Riveting

See it if You like great acting, great writing, great everything.

Don't see it if For some reason you'd be put off by a show where a human being plays an elephant.

Also I thought this was just spectacular. It did a great job of making corr... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Delightful, Enchanting, Great acting

See it if you are interested in compelling storytelling, socio-political themes, amazing physicality. To the core it’s about being complicit.

Don't see it if you are a looking for overproduced razzle dazzle. It’s simple, clean, effective storytelling.

Intelligent, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if You care about wildlife conservation, appreciate a great portrayal via dance and movement and original music

Don't see it if you don't like original presentation of a global problem

Absorbing, Entertaining, Surprisingly human-centric, Intelligent, Polished

See it if you’re into humankind & art, art & the manufacture of exclusivity. Not only about elephants, but about how we respect items over life.

Don't see it if you prefer sanctimonious PETA campaigns; don’t think fuller, less shrill communication is better for addressing our perspective on nature.

Also I was laughably wrong on what I thought this play was going to be. I t... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (12)