Man’s Dominion by David Castro. Review by Pauline Adamek. *This review first appeared on www.StageRaw.com *
A TV writer/producer for most of his lengthy career, David Castro has now tried his hand at playwriting, and the resulting one-person play, Man’s Dominion, is not as emotionally gripping as one might expect from the subject matter. Castro was seized by the tragic turn-of-the-century tale of a circus elephant’s lynching. In a small Tennessee town in 1916, an Indian elephant named Mary lashed out at an inexperienced and brutal trainer, stamping on his head. For this murderous act, the beast was hanged.
The playwright adopts the typical, no-frills approach of having a sole actor inhabit a virtually bare stage and adopt numerous characters. By doffing a hat, buttoning his collar or affixing a red nose, Tim Powell portrays nine distinct characters from clown to clergyman, each also delineated by a broad accent – an Irishman’s lilt, the drawl of a Southerner, and the cadence of a black man. Castro also has Powell adopt the persona of the slain man — for whom the elephant was killed — in an interesting, ghostly choice.
For his social commentary, Castro’s language is equal parts vivid and ploddingly explanatory, tapping into 1916 attitudes that ranged from remorse to outrage. Some sequences are insightful, though, such as a short speech that reveals the harsh realities of a physically taxing career in the circus. Additionally, this curiosity-piece of a play holds a neat little surprise in the stalls for its audiences.