Jeremy Crutchley performs his one-man show Sacred Elephant, directed by Geoffrey Hyland, based on a poem by Heathcote Williams, at the Odyssey Theatre. Crutchley creates a meditative space -- a sanctuary from which he can recite in his lilting British voice and poetic language and create images in his realm. He appears onstage slowly and quietly in the dark, as he later tells the audience that an elephant can do, stepping on its toes and totally silent. He is wearing a heavy, weathered, dusty full-length cloak, his long hair braided and dusty, red encircling his eyes. A kind of half man, half elephant.
In the first half of the presentation, Crutchley plays as an elephant, stretching his long arms up as trunk, dusting himself with dirt as elephants often do to protect their skin. He ponders imaginary bones and tusks on the ground of dead elephants and mimics other elephant actions as he revels in the hundreds of facts about elephants’ abilities, their status and their history.
When left alone, elephants revel in nature, knowing the earth in subsonic ways we don’t. They are “nature’s billowing, blasting archangels”. Their trunk is their “third eye,” their tusks reflect the “secrets of the crescent moon.” They are the only other creature besides man who in distress will weep salt tears. For thousands of years, elephant were the lord and center of creation. The African elephant’s ear looks like Africa, the Indian elephant’s like India. What other creature is so geographically connected to the earth?
At 13 feet and 7 tons, elephants have a lifespan parallel to man. But they breathe much slower with a lower metabolic rate, which allows them to retain their famous memories their whole lives. A human baby weighs seven pounds, and an elephant’s brain weighs nine. Young children get happy when they learn of and see pictures of elephants. It opens up their world and imagination to others bigger than their parents.
For thousands of years, indisputable lords of the earth, they have been meditated with by monks, made into gods by Hindus, used as symbols of strength throughout the ages when they have been “tricked by men” to fight man's wars and do man’s bidding, logging and destroying the very ecosystems that are their home.
Crutchley mesmerizes with amazing facts and information while physically suggesting the movements and actions of the elephants, until he gets into the part where elephants are feared by, captured, tortured, enslaved and killed by man. The elephant has been commercialized for its parts. The laundry list of uses of elephant parts is astounding and nauseating. Everything from waste baskets from its feet, to toothpicks, piano keys, bracelets, pistol handles, and dozens of other mundane uses of its tusks.
Then Crutchley becomes the slick merchant selling the goods, the cruel circus trainer, the shyster circus master, the slick poacher, the fearful hunter, the half asleep zookeeper, unknowing zoo attendee, and performers of other occupations which take advantage of the subjugation and mistreatment and death of these magnificent creatures.
Performing elephants are made to exist in tiny spaces, chained, and unable to perform any of its natural functions. Humiliting use of their outstanding qualities of balance, gentleness, intelligence. Those die young, often committing suicide. In the wild, seven out of ten elephants have been killed in the last decade. And the drive to own every ounce of them that can be exploited gets bigger every day.
This is a tour de force theatrical poem, masterfully acted. Elephant lovers will rejoice, and many of those who don’t yet know these startling facts about our fellow pachyderms and the danger they are in, will feel a call to action. As an elephant lover and activist I applaud this great work of Jeremy Crutchley and hope he can perform it around the country and on t.v.
On October 4 there will be a Global March for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions - which are all in danger of extinction at the hands of man. More than 107 cities around the world have already signed on to march that day to express their outrage in one global outcry to save these species. In Los Angeles it will start at the LaBrea Tar Pits at 11 am. Many attendees of this play will want to participate.
Photos of Crutchley performing Sacred Elephant by Rob Keith
All other photos by Georja Umano
Georja Umano is an actress and animal activist.
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 900025
310 477 2055
Sacred Elephant runs Thurs – Sat. 8pm and Sun. at 2pm
Now through August 17
Tickets are $20