Milma’s Tale Comes to Theatre Nova

How do short term decisions about how we acquire and utilize natural resources affect the wider world? And how do decisions made under duress or for satisfying greed shape lives? That is the central theme of “Milma’s Tale,” an 80 minute play which will be running at Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova from September 1 to 24.

“I like the theatricality of the story, the topic that we don’t talk about every day of how people abuse our natural resources, to poach an elephant tusk. I think metaphorically that stands a lot of things about the way the world is now … [harvesting] natural resources without thinking about things long term,” Director Lynch Travis said. “Everybody in this play is in for it for what they are going to get out of it in the short term…It’s not like they don’t have motives, but in terms of looking at things from a big picture, none of these people are doing that.”

The play follows the soul of the play’s namesake, an elephant who is killed for his tusks. His spirit follows the ivory as it is harvested and sold from person to person; laying bare the root causes of why the trade happens; from greed, to the ongoing history of colonialism and post-colonialism, self preservation and greed.

“It’s really about the interconnectivity of people; people who buy a tusk, an upscale shop in China is connected to a Somali culture whose starving and makes decisions based upon necessity,” Lynn Nottage, the two time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who wrote “Milma’s Tale, said.


Lynn Notage. Image credit: Lynn Savarese.
Lynn Notage. Photo provided by Lynn Savarese.

Nottage said that she began writing the piece after a conversation with a director over how to use art to make people aware of what is happening and motivate global change.

We are losing around 40 African elephants a day to ivory poaching according to the World Wildlife Foundation, a number that the ecological and animal rights non-profit says has soared since “the early 2010s” mostly because of “an increasing demand for ivory, particularly in China and the Far East, where it is used for ornaments and [is] seen as a luxury status symbol.”

Travis said that he is excited to bring Nottage’s play to Ann Arbor.

“If I had a Mount Rushmore of playwrights, she would certainly be on it,” Travis said.

The play will be in production at 410 West Huron Street at 8 p.m. every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. But if you can’t make it in the evenings, there will also be a performance at 2 p.m.

Tickets for individuals run from $22. Face masks are required for some but not all performances. The schedule on the theater’s website which of the performances require masks for people still wary of the Coronavirus pandemic and which ones do not require masks.

“Theater remains one of the few communal spaces that we have where we can grapple with weighty ideas and explore our collective narrative in ways that build empathy,” Nottage said. “And I think that theater is essential in that equation. It’s where people first encounter robust storytelling, where people can gather, where people get to express themselves.”

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Drew Saunders is a freelance business and environmental journalist who grew up just outside of Ann Arbor. He covers local business developments, embraces his foodie side with reviews restaurants, obsesses over Michigan's environmental state, loves movies, and feels spoiled by the music he gets to review for Ann Arbor!