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'Going to See the Elephant'

Article Published: Aug. 18, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Going to See the Elephant'

You don't hear the phrase, "going to see the elephant," much these days.

But in the mid to late 1800s, it was a popular euphemism for going to do something new and adventurous.

It was often used in the late 1840s and early 1850s by westward traveling Americans during the Gold Rush, and later by soldiers heading off to join their infantries during the Civil War.

"Going to See the Elephant" is also the title of a new play that explores the lives of four strong pioneer women during the frontier days in the 1870s Kansas wilderness.

Ensemble Stage will present "Going to See the Elephant" on stage at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium Aug. 26 through Sept. 5. Tickets are on sale now.

"Going to See the Elephant" was written by Karen Hensel, Elana Kent, Patti Johns, Sylvia Meredith, Elizabeth Shaw and Laura Toffenetti. The Ensemble Stage production is directed by Lisa Lamont and stars Jessica Peterson as Maw, Stephanie Bensten as Mrs. Nichols, Lauren Ohnesorge as Sara and Elise Soeder as Etta.

Peterson, an Equity actor from Florida, was last seen on stage in Blowing Rock in the world premiere of Bob Inman's "Dairy Queen Days."

In "Going to See the Elephant," four frontier women in Kansas try to survive in a harsh wilderness environment. Maw is the matriarch of the group and inspires the others with her strength and wanderlust. Her daughter-in-law, Sara, is a hardworking young wife and mother who is at peace with her life and her environs.

Etta is a young woman who has been abducted by the Cheyenne. She is somewhat traumatized by the experience but remains optimistic that she can resume a normal life. Mrs. Nichols is a refined woman from the East who has been forced to take shelter with the other women while her husband recovers from an illness.

Together, the four women deal with wolf attacks, the threat of Indians on the prowl, and the ever-present isolation of life on the prairie. They talk of "going to see the elephant" to see what's on the other side of the next hill. They also show how the great push West was dominated by men but sustained by women.

"Going to See the Elephant" enjoyed a long-run production by the Los Angeles Repertory Company, where it was called "a fine work, teeming with curiosity about life, courage, resignation to 'God's will,' enduring strength and the ability to take small joys wherever they can be found."

Tickets & Times

The Ensemble Stage production of "Going to See the Elephant" will be presented at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium on Friday, Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m.; Aug. 27 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 28, at 3:30 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 4, at 3:30 p.m.; and Monday, Sept. 5, at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets for the play are $16 for adults and $13 for seniors, students and military personnel.
For more information, or to reserve tickets, call (828) 414-1844, or visit

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