Members say: Great acting, Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Relevant, Great staging

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.

... Read 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.  

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

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


"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

The Hollywood Reporter

"More didactic than narratively involving, the show never accumulates much dramatic force...The ensemble's frequent shifts in gender and nationality are sometimes confusing, and while there are many powerful moments, the narrative is choppy and disjointed...Clocking in at a mere 80 minutes, the play doesn't wear out its welcome. It also features occasional doses of pungent humor...At its conclusion, you wind up feeling exactly the same way as when it began." 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"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

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

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

Talkin' Broadway

"Hovering over the entire production is the spirit of the grand and glorious Mlima...enacted in a most evocative display of performance art by Sahr Ngaujah...Nottage gives us the kind of artistic precision we have come to expect from the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner...And yet, for all its powerful moments, the play feels as if it is missing the most important voice of Mlima himself...This is what we need more of. What is Mlima's story?...Too much 'docu' and not enough 'drama.'" Full Review

The Wrap

"Ngaujah’s truly balletic movements fascinate and his baritone speaking voice is mellifluous...Nottage is better at anthropomorphizing her lead elephant than she is any of the humans who later appear...The structure is so schematic that it bleeds the story of any tension. While the relative ease of poaching might be Nottage’s point, the journey of Mlima’s tusks is so drama-free it’s a wonder elephants aren’t already extinct...What propels the story forward is Ngaujah’s presence." 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

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

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

New York Magazine / Vulture

"While it’s not a revelatory theatrical experience, the show is tightly crafted and engagingly performed...Moves us swiftly and often effectively through its story...If Nottage’s play lacks something, it’s a sense of surprise...Bonney does crisp, uptempo work with her actors, and scores the transitions between Nottage’s duets at a confident clip...The dialogue between the corrupt human beings often crackles, but when Mlima is left alone onstage, he’s got to deliver somewhat purple monologues." 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

The Clyde Fitch Report

"The shirtless and magnificent Ngaujah kicks off and concludes 'Mlima’s Tale' with direct address speeches that, along with Bonney's staging of the play evoke deep dark spaces, inter-generational wisdom and danger in the distance...I found the experience of the play an amorphous wash...Often unclear precisely which character is which and how all the pieces link together, however, I did sense that each little step, interaction and compromise does lead to the next in the plot." 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

Theater Reviews from my Seat

"The best part of this tale is Milma's journey and his spirituality...Ngaujah's performance is emotionally intense with tremendously masculine yet poetic physicality. He is superb...Not a bad play. It may be just overly clinical while being informative with its moral teachings...Three actors playing so many characters does not help the generic feeling of this fable...All this leads to the three of us who attended this play feeling disappointedly disconnected at the end." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Intense, Epic, Great staging, Great acting, Ambitious

See it if You are concerned about animal welfare and are open to unusual ways of presenting topical, controversial issues.

Don't see it if You prefer straightforward plays that are simply entertaining rather than thought-provoking.

Very good theatre.

See it if You appreciate a goos story welll and imaginately told.

Don't see it if You want tradional story telling.

Ambitious, Great acting, Profound, Relevant, Beautifully staged

See it if You want to see a beautifully performed, uniquely staged play about illicit ivory trading, greed and corruption.

Don't see it if You are looking for a plot heavy standard narrative type play.

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

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

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant, Great staging

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

Absorbing, Exquisite, Masterful, Great writing, Great staging

See it if a well written, acted and imaginatively envisioned play is what makes you get up out of your home and come to the theater.

Don't see it if you think a interesting play about the ivory trade doesn’t affect your life in any way, shape, or form. You surprisingly would be wrong.

Also This talented cast of four actors play 10 different characters with th... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Profound, Great writing

See it if you enjoy poignant pieces about contemporary issues presented in a spiritual fashion

Don't see it if representational drama is not your style

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great acting, Profound, Great writing

See it if Beautiful melding of music, physicality, lighting and poetic language to tell the tale of ivory poaching through interconnected characters

Don't see it if You don’t like imaginative staging and storytelling and three actors playing multiple roles

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Profound, Great staging

See it if you'd like to see Lynn Nottage's experimental writing and a small cast that are able to bring in a punch to the narrative

Don't see it if you prefer Nottage's naturalist style of writing


See it if You are interested in seeing a beautifully presented show on the subject of ivory poaching by a great playwright.

Don't see it if You are not interested in an arid expose of corruption. This is poetic and lovely to look at, but unengaging and obvious.

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

See it if Beautifully staged. Relevant issues. Thought provoking. Wonderful performances., however, something was missing.

Don't see it if You have no interest in the preservation of the most soulful & sensitive animals in this world. Brilliantly committed to their families.

Also You have to witness them in their own environment to truly appreciate ... Read more Read less

Great acting, Disappointing, Great staging

See it if Four excellent actors play numerous characters, including an elephant in a play about heartless and reckless self-interest and greed

Don't see it if You want plays with emotional depth. If you think 90-minutes of audience concentration should result in a pay-off from the playwright.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You want to see an inventively minimalist staging of a difficult social ill.

Don't see it if You have difficulty with symbolic storytelling or unconventional narratives.

Intelligent, Intense, Profound, Relevant, Hilarious

See it if You’re concerned about the politics of extinction.

Don't see it if You are dismayed by the insidiousness of the politics of extinction.

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Riveting, Disappointing

See it if youre into animal welfare, want to see an incredibly well acted and staged show

Don't see it if the plot of the show doesn't interest you

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

Clever, Relevant, Riveting, Great writing, Great staging

See it if If you are politically aligned with animal rights activists.

Don't see it if You prefer literal representations

Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Great staging

See it if you want to learn about the arc of money market dynamics (new wealth 'collectors') that drive the slaughter of elephants - bribes & trade.

Don't see it if you don't like anthropomorphic direction (like Julie Taymor's work). This is exquisite art and Sahr Ngaujah as the elephant is spellbinding

Also If you are informed about the corrupt and criminal ivory trade chain t... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Profound, Resonant, Great writing

See it if you like Nottage's work, you enjoy clear moral imperatives, you can draw parallels and appreciate metaphoric and literal writing.

Don't see it if some have found this a bit pedantic, although as I understood it to be both a treatment on natural resources and race, I found it engrossing

Also I liked this play much more than Nottage's Pulitzer winning play and w... Read more Read less

During previews
Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Great staging, Didactic

See it if you want to see the latest work of a two-time Tony winner and/or you are interested in learning about the illicit ivory trade.

Don't see it if you don't like didactic plays with characters that, with one notable exception, are little more than stick figures to advance the story

Also Sahr Ngaujah is a compelling stage presence.

During previews
Clever, Great acting, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You care about the sale of ivory and the effects that has on the elephant population and want to see the chain which effects this trade.

Don't see it if You are not interested in meaningful plays with a strong message

Also This is a remarkable performance with only four actors playing multipl... Read more Read less

During previews
Great acting, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

See it if You like storytelling theater, live music that really weaves itself beautifully into the play & great acting. You care about elephants.

Don't see it if You do not like sad (but real) stories of animal abuse. You do not like when actors play more than one character.

During previews
Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if You’re very interested in the subject of animal poaching in Africa — this gives a detailed account of those who take part.

Don't see it if You’re not interested in the subject matter or dislike small-cast plays without much flash. This is a very “small” play.

During previews
Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Profound

See it if Tells the story of the ivory trade from the point of view of a murdered elephant. Very well done. Sand Ngaujah as Mlima was masterful.

Don't see it if Four actors playing multiple roles is sometimes confusing,

During previews
Creative, Thought-provoking, Compelling, Great storytelling, Theatrical

See it if you want to see a show that makes full use of its theatricality to tell a story in a really clear and extremely satisfying way.

Don't see it if you only enjoy kitchen sink realism.

Cast & Creatives (12)