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[whitespace] The Elephant's Child Wild at heart: Gordon Pugh and Rachel Finelly star in The Elephant's Child.

Meg Dakin



'The Elephant's Child' benefits child soldiers in Africa

By Patrick Sullivan

THESE CHILDREN are used as mine sweepers," explains Gabriella Randazzo, her normally cheerful voice nearly choking with outrage. "They're put right on the front lines. It's really awful stuff."

Indeed, for sheer horror, it's tough to surpass the situation about which Randazzo is so understandably upset. In Uganda, according to the international group Human Rights Watch, children as young as 8 are being kidnapped from their homes and schools by rebel soldiers and forced into a life of war, used as the most expendable of cannon fodder in the civil war that has engulfed the small country in Central Africa. A few escape and return to their villages, traumatized for life by their experiences.

This tragedy unfolding halfway across the world might seem a distant horror, but it's anything but remote to Randazzo. As the head of the Children's Theater of All Possibilities, a 3-year-old Sebastopol organization, Randazzo, 47, works with kids constantly, and her concern for their welfare doesn't stop at national borders. That's why her company is mounting an ambitious theatrical production to raise money to help rehabilitate the war-damaged children in Uganda.

On June 12 and 13, a theatrical version of Rudyard Kipling's "The Elephant's Child" will be brought to the stage at Sonoma State University by an all-volunteer 75-member company composed of local children and a handful of adult performers, including Georgia Churchill, a local storyteller who will take the part of the narrator. The cast of singers, dancers, and actors will tell Kipling's quirky and amusing story, full of the English writer's sparkling gift for peculiar language, of how the curious little elephant's child got his boot-sized nose stretched out to its present useful length by a hungry crocodile on "the banks of the great gray-green, greasy Limpopo River."

But Randazzo hopes that The Elephant's Child, which is adapted from one of Kipling's famous Just So Stories, will do more than just raise badly needed funds. The production also testifies to the director's belief in the healing power of art. The play, which is set to a musical score created by noted musician Bobby McFerrin, will be videotaped, equipped with subtitles, and sent to rehabilitation centers in Africa to be viewed by the former child soldiers themselves.

At first glance, it's an odd juxtaposition: the grim reality of children enslaved to a killing machine stands in sharp contrast to Kipling's basically cheerful fable of innocence redeemed. But Randazzo believes that the alternately whimsical and terrifying tale will strike a deep chord with child victims.

"The Elephant's Child is an initiation story. It's a story about how a child overcomes the predator, the crocodile," Randazzo says. "I chose it because I thought it mirrors in a wonderful way the possibility of a naive and innocent child confronting a predator and overcoming the challenge. I think that's a positive theme that will help create the possibility of hope for these children."

To achieve that effect, Randazzo has added a few small touches to Kipling's original story. On the one hand, the crocodile will be dressed in army camouflage; on the other, the original violence of the story will be toned down a bit. Rather than being constantly spanked by his many relatives for his "satiable curiosity," the elephant's child will be "twizzled," which means being spun around and confused.

Randazzo's young performers, who are mostly first- through sixth-graders from local schools, were delighted to learn that their efforts would help other children--though the kids haven't been told the grim details.

"I just call [the Ugandan children] war orphans. I don't go into the real horror of it," Randazzo explains. "But when they find out they're actually helping other kids, there's something that shifts in them. They're doing something meaningful. These kids stand tall. They're pretty amazing."


The Elephant's Child is staged June 12 at 7:30 and June 13 at 2 p.m. at the Evert B. Person Theater, SSU, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. Tickets are $10 for adults and $4 for kids . For details, call 823-8036.

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From the June 10-16, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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