Posts Tagged ‘Metropolitan Playhouse’

On this day in 1903, Thomas Edison’s infamous Electrocuting an Elephant was released, having been filmed on January 4th in Coney Island’s Luna Park. A crowd of 1,500 had gathered to see Topsy, billed as “the man-killing elephant,” executed with 6,000 volts of electricity. The movie is filed in my brain under “Why I Hate Thomas Edison” despite his invention of the electric light bulbs and motion picture technology on view in the wondrous “Coney Island, Luna Park by Night” filmed by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Manufacturing Co. in 1905.

This week, Edison’s Elephant, a new play by David Koteles and Christopher Van Strander exploring the life and death of the abused and maligned Topsy premieres as part of Metropolitan Playhouse’s Gilded Stage Festival. The inspiration for the play came when Koteles, whose great grandfather worked for Edison during the early days of the Kinetoscope, learned about Topsy while watching a compilation of Edison’s short films. According to an interview with NY Theater Now, he was “horrified, but intrigued” and decided to team up with his friend Chris Van Strander to write the play.

Edison's Elephant

Topsy inspired Rosie the elephant in Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants (2006) and was the subject of journalist Michael Daly’s Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant (2013). Daly says the electrocution was Edison’s way of venting his fury over having lost the AC vs DC battle with Westinghouse, as well as his opportunity to film the first death of any kind. Although Topsy’s execution has been referenced in many films and literary works, as far as we know this is the first play.

Among the characters in Edison’s Elephant are an Edison employee involved in experiments with electricity that killed other animals prior to Topsy’s execution. His wife, who accompanies him to the execution, is the conscience of the play. “I think we’ve created a very special evening of theater. As well as a lovely tribute to Topsy,” Koteles said. The Metropolitan Playhouse festival, which runs from January 13-26, features nine new plays inspired by the leading writers and creators of the Gilded Age, including PT Barnum, L Frank Baum, Henry James, and Frederick Law Olmsted.

Edison’s Elephant by David Koteles and Chris Van Strander. Performances on January 16, 19, 24 and 25 at Metropolitan Playhouse’s Gilded Stage Festival, 220 East 4th Street, New York City. 212-995-5302


Related posts on ATZ…

August 27, 2012: Video of the Day: Raw Footage of 1960s Coney Island

March 7, 2012: ATZ Review: Love Never Dies in a Phantasmal Coney Island

January 8, 2012: Video of the Day: Coney Island at Night by Edwin S. Porter

January 15, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island

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