Seven Homeless Mammoths’ is a witty, inventive success

Steve Herson caretakes a particularly horrendous diorama.
Jacob Coakley

Four stars

Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England August 21-23, times vary, $25. Art Square Theatre, 702-818-3422.

Despite its unwieldy title, Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England is ultimately a simple pastoral comedy. Like the title, though, it’s the inventive flourishes that playwright Madeline George adds that make it such a delight.

The rarefied air of life at an elite, private New England college where Dean Wreen (played by Penelope T. Walker) presides substitutes for the actual pastoral here. And when the board of the college decides to tear down its wretched (if nostalgically beloved) natural history museum, Wreen has to contend with community backlash—including some from her much younger lover Andromeda (Kristen Magee). On top of all that, Wreen invites Greer (her partner for decades, now her ex) back to live with her as Greer’s cancer has returned, for the final time.

Generation gaps, town-and-gown politics and midlife crises provide plenty of fodder for George, and the play that emerges is by turns hysterical, inventive … and yet maddeningly simple emotionally. It will come as no surprise that the ladies learn to understand each other better and love one another, but I wish the journey toward that resolution had a little more of the inventiveness George displays in other aspects of the script.

Like her alarmingly sharp wit. The erudite evisceration of academia and its environs is filled with screamingly funny quips, and the play’s construction is full of delightful surprises—including interludes featuring Susaan Jamshidi and Casey Searles as Native Americans in excruciatingly bad dioramas in the museum and Steve Herson as its caretaker, who only speaks in passages from a local newspaper.

The entire cast—imported from Chicago’s Theater Wit, along with the director and creative team—is uniformly excellent, comfortable with the high-flying language, and director Jeremy Wechsler guides them to small (and large) moments of confrontation and humor in his staging. Joe Schermoly’s detailed set places more life and locations in Art Square Theatre than I thought possible, and Scott Pillsbury’s lighting (with an assist from UNLV grad student Elizabeth Kline) is perfectly suited to the tone and space.

Still, I keep coming back to the language. Its effervescence, combined with the play’s quirky perspectives and inversions, elevate this show to something special.

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