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Little Theatre staging ‘The Elephant Song’

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Sherman C. Ward Jr. likes to do things differently, which is why “The Elephant Song” spoke to him.

The 91-year-old artist and playwright who lives on Dingman Point, Alexandria Bay, saw its premiere in 2004 at the Stratford Festival in Ontario.

“I was quite taken with it and thought, ‘This is something I can do,’” he said.

Little Theatre of Watertown, with Mr. Ward directing, will present “The Elephant Song” by Nicolas Billon at the Black River Valley Club as a dinner/theater and general admission shows beginning Thursday and running through May 4, when it will have a special showing at Macsherry Library, 112 Walton St., Alexandria Bay.

“This is a heavy play — no laughs,” Mr. Ward said. “Maybe there will be a couple of tears at the end.”

The play is about an eminent psychiatrist who vanishes from his office. The last person to see him is Michael, a troubled patient obsessed with all things elephants. The hospital director, ignoring the nurse’s cryptic warnings, tries to question Michael.

Mr. Ward explained the show’s title comes from the patient’s obsession with elephants.

The play is full of “mind games and verbal tugs of war.”

Its dramatic aspect is a departure from the comedies staged by Little Theatre of Watertown.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m doing it,” Mr. Ward said. “Watertown (Little Theatre) does mostly not very deep plays. I thought this was an opportunity to show the audience we can do something else. It’s also a challenge for the actors to do something else. You really have to work developing a character.”

The one-act drama, which has three actors and a female apparition who appears at the end, will be staged “in the round” at the Black River Valley Club and at Macsherry Library. Audience members will be seated in a circle around the actors. The play is set in a psychiatrist’s office. There are no walls on the set, only props.

“I’m trying to bring something a little bit different for the audience,” said Mr. Ward. “The audience will practically sit right on the stage.”

He said he told his actors: “‘I want you to be able to whisper on stage and the audience to hear you.’”

“It’s the kind of feeling that the audience is in the office with them,” Mr. Ward said.

Mr. Ward has double-cast the show. But the actors aren’t performing in specific teams matched for certain days. He has mixed up the performers throughout the performance schedule.

“I’m rehearsing it that way as well, so they can get used to working with other people,” he said.

There was one aspect of the premiere Mr. Ward viewed at Stratford that he didn’t like, so he’s changed his staged version. It involved a character’s mother, who sang opera.

“They had her behind a scrim off to the side,” Mr. Ward said. “I thought, ‘This takes me right out of the play.’ I decided she’ll be right in the play. I’m going to put her in physically to move around and act out the aria she’s singing.”

The nonagenarian Mr. Ward obviously isn’t done with his own stage or artistic acts.

“I don’t know where I get the energy, but I’m doing it,” he said. “I’m 91. I got to keep going.”

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The cast of ‘The Elephant Song” staged by Little Theatre of Watertown:

Jay Storey and Wayne Thompson as Dr. Greenberg, Susie Curtis and Suzy Quackenbush as Miss Peterson, Shane Coughlin and Colton Mangon as Michael Aleen and Emily Thompson as Amanda Saint-James.

Cecilia Thompson is producer and Rebecca Hopfinger is costumer.

the details
WHAT: “The Elephant Song” by Nicolas Billon, presented by Little Theatre of Watertown with dinner/theater and show-only options.
WHERE: The Black River Valley Club, 131 Washington St., and one show at Macsherry Library, 112 Walton St., Alexandria Bay, on May 4.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. general admission show Thursday; dinner/theater at 7 p.m. Friday and April 27; dinner/theater at 1 p.m. April 28; dinner/theater at 7 p.m. May 2 ; general admission at 7:30 p.m. May 3; and the Macsherry Library show at 7 p.m. May 4.
COST: Dinner/theater is $30 with reservations required. General admission shows are $12.
To make a dinner reservation, contact Little Theatre at 782-6218.
OF NOTE: The drama contains adult content.
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