My first show at Toronto Fringe yesterday was a recent addition to my schedule, as I arrived early at the Tarragon Theatre [link] Extraspace to get a ticket at the door for LA-based Pachyderm Productions’ Man’s Dominion, written by David Castro and directed by Dennis Neal.
I’d first learned about Man’s Dominion while standing in line at the Tarragon for another show on Sunday night, as Castro was chatting up the show and handing out flyers – and this was no drive-by flyering – he took time and really engaged with people. Coincidentally, actor Tim Powell was one of the Fringe guests on Radio Regent’s Stage Left the next day, where I was co-hosting with host MC Thompson – giving me a chance to meet him and hear about the show.
Man’s Dominion is a one-man piece of history storytelling that features the voices of 10 eyewitnesses of the 1916 lynching of a circus elephant in Erwin, Tennessee. Yes, you read that right. The people of Erwin lynched an elephant. Her name was Mary, and she was condemned to death for killing her trainer, Red Eldridge, who was on his second day on the job. The crowd, already shouting for blood, had their righteous indignation fuelled by Rev. George McKee, who quoted from Genesis 1:26, citing man’s God-given dominion over the animals.
Actor Tim Powell gives a powerful and thought-provoking performance, opening as Ringmaster and Sparks Circus owner Charlie Sparks, and finishing as Mary. Eldridge gets a say too, and it’s believed that it was his application of the bull hook that set Mary off. Deftly shifting from character to character, with diverse dialects, and social and cultural backgrounds, Powell shows us multiple points of view (which Castro has incorporated in such a way that we get a balanced overall account of what happened, leaving us to decide for ourselves whether the townsfolk did right). Hobo Joe (a clown) provides some much needed laughs, but with the dark edge and rough delivery of a hard-drinking, hard-working circus life. Rev. McKee is quiet and introspective on the outside, concealing a heart of fire and brimstone, and a mind full of harsh vengeance.
The most heartbreaking moments come when an Irish roustabout is ordered to put a chain (the noose) around Mary’s neck, and an elderly black baggage handler endures jeers of “This is what you get!” as Mary is unloaded at the train station, where an industrial crane will be her gallows. It is this man who points out the full quote from Genesis 1:26, highlighting how selective the religiously self-righteous can be with how they enact the words of scripture. And then Mary herself, who with dignity and honesty gives us her last words.
Man’s Dominion is a moving account of a shameful piece of history, with just the right amount of comic relief to make the senselessness bearable, and featuring a stellar solo performance from Powell.
Man’s Dominion continues at the Tarragon Extra Space, with just two more performances: July 10 at 8:00 p.m. and July 11 at 12:00 p.m. See this show while you can; these guys aren’t local and who can say if/when they’ll be back in T.O.