Entertainment » Theatre

RoosevElvis

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Tuesday May 10, 2016
Libby King and Kristen Sieh in RoosevElvis at the Royal Court. Photo: Helen Murray
Libby King and Kristen Sieh in RoosevElvis at the Royal Court. Photo: Helen Murray  

Elvis' meeting with Richard Nixon is one of presidential politics great anecdotes. (For an update catch "Elvis & Nixon," the current dramedy the event currently in theaters.) But what about the time he met Teddy Roosevelt? What, you may ask? That could never have happened: Roosevelt died in 1919; Elvis was born in 1935. It is the kind of thing that could only happen in the Twilight Zone.

But at the onset of "RoosevElvis," the boisterous two-hander that the New York-based performance troupe the TEAM bring to Oberon through May 29, the pair humorously banter back and forth as if they were participating in a podcast being streamed from the great hereafter.

It turns out the conversation is taking place in the mind of Ann (Libby King), a mopey lesbian from Rapid City, South Dakota who works in a meat packing plant and relaxes by getting stoned and visiting nearby Mount Rushmore. Ann may not be terribly articulate, but she has quite an active fantasy life that transpires in a road trip in which she travels to Graceland with her dead companions.


Libby King in RoosevElvis at the Royal Court. Photo: Sarah Lam  

What prompts this journey is some hard advice Ann gets from Brenda (Kristen Sieh), a feisty lesbian she meets on a hook-up site and spends a weekend with. Brenda's no-nonsense, queer attitude doesn't jive with Ann's closeted persona, which leads to an awkward camping trip in the Badlands.

For the snarky Brenda, the weekend is the stuff of an anecdote she will tell to her friends back home; but for Ann, it is life-changing, prompting her impromptu road trip to Graceland. That she brings her imaginary celebrity friends along makes for a most entertaining journey.

But the play also touches upon such subjects as internalized homophobia and depression, both of which define Ann. How she journeys to her finding her place in the world - symbolically, it turns out, when she puts her name on a graffiti wall at Graceland - gives the drama a bittersweet coda.


Kristen Sieh in RoosevElvis at the Royal Court. Photo: Sarah Lam  

Up until then "RoosevElvis" is more quirky fun, largely due to the outlandish concept and the oversized caricatures of Teddy and Elvis. Sieh, in muttonchops and a fringed, Western suede jacket, expresses Teddy's exuberant confidence in a pitch-perfect old money accent. It's as if she's channeled Cate Blanchett channeling Katherine Hepburn from "The Aviator." Her bravado is ingratiating. For her part, King (in an Elvis wig) plays the King more deadpan, very much in keeping with his more conflicted personality.

They also bring great depth of feeling to their more down-to-earth characters. Sieh embodies the tart, dismissive Brenda in ways that make her oddly sympathetic, while King captures Ann's lonely spirit with great poignancy.

If there's a spirit that informs this theatrical mash-up it is "Thelma and Louise," the seminal road movie that shook up the genre with its feminist point-of-view. Throughout the play, sequences from the film are seen on monitors on the right and left of the stage. Yet the play (created by Rachel Chavkin, King and Sieh, and directed by Chavkin) doesn't offer a slavish reduction of the film. Instead it offers an imaginative, often curious and, in the end, sadly real take on the road movie genre.

How this is achieved is largely due to Chavkin's precise direction and the ingenious production design, which mixes video and set pieces (moved around the stage by the actors and two technicians) with sleek efficiency. This is the first time (I believe) the TEAM have come to this area. If "RoosevElvis" is indicative of their work, let's hope they come back again soon.

"RoosevElvis" continues through May 29 at OBERON, 2 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA. For more information, visit the American Repertory Theater website.


Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].


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