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Elephant at center of student theatre production

Elephant’s Graveyard, a play based on the real-life hanging of an elephant in the early 1900s, opens on Tuesday at the Studio Theatre. It is the Department of Theatre’s first production of the academic year.

The play debuted in Texas in 2007 and features an ensemble cast of 15 characters. “We in the theatre department always want to give students as many opportunities as possible,” said director Brian Fahey, a lecturer in the Department of Theatre and a Northeastern alumnus. “Having a cast that size is really great for a university production.”

Elephant’s Graveyard was written by George Brant, a playwright whom Fahey met at graduate school at the University of Texas. It is based on the true tale of the only known hanging of an elephant. Set in 1916 Erwin, Tenn., a local circus and the town collide after the circus’ elephant kills its handler. The elephant, Mary, is ultimately hanged by the neck from a crane at a railroad yard.

“First and foremost, it’s a really compelling story,” Fahey explained. “It also speaks to topical issues that deal with America’s obsession with justice and violence and spectacle and revenge, subjects that feel really relevant now.”

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Cast members Dario Sanchez, the ringmaster, and Rachael MacAskill, the ballet girl, noted that the characters often speak directly to the audience, a rarity in a theatrical production. “I think it is really interesting how it’s directed at the audience in an interview-like style,” said MacAskill, a fifth-year combined major in theatre and history. “There is not a lot of dialogue but there is a lot of story telling. It’s a way to relate to the audience on a different level.”

Rehearsals started on Sept. 8, exactly one month before opening night. Sanchez, a first-year communication studies major, characterized the rehearsal schedule as demanding yet thrilling. “With the hectic rehearsal period, you sort of find those moments when you don’t need the script anymore and it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s more dynamic and action packed.”

In addition to the cast members, Fahey said dozens of other students and faculty members are working on the production. Many are helping build sets, design props, or prepare other technical components of the performance.

“It’s a learning laboratory for these students,” Fahey noted. “Everything from stage management to design to performance. It showcases the strengths of the department.”

The production’s two-week run comprises 12 performances, which Fahey said will give the student actors the chance to settle into a rhythm and have their work viewed many times.

Tickets are available at neu.universitytickets.com. For more information, please call 617.373.2245.