Elephant in the Room
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 14, 2009
The production team stands out in Leah Hendrick's 45-minute play, Elephant in the Room. Credit Morgan Gould for inventive direction: he creates the illusion of a 10,000-pound woman sitting in a wing chair by projecting the back of the chair with considerable enormity on the theatre's brick wall. Set design by Chad McArver adds bolts of fabric that represent everything from a shroud to agitated intestines. In one of four scenes, a prop slowly—eerily—removes itself from the stage. Barbara Samuels is equally clever with her lighting, creating an instant window where there was none; and Tim Chaffee's sound work raises the tension with an imperceptible note early on.
Elephant's four parts dip into the psyche of a 10,000-pound woman named Fanny and reveals some hyperbolic reflections of what might be on her mind: Scene 1—sibling rivalry with an anorexic brother called Les in which each blames the other for everything, including life and death; here we have the first taste of cannibalism; Scene 2—in which her mother, Gale, literally tears her heart out for Fanny while on a camping trip together, despite her incapacity for love; Scene 3—enlightenment through a lesbian relationship with Fran and Fran's meditations; and Scene 4—a relationship with a skinny twerp, Gusto, who is killed when she rolls over him, but whom she later visits in her own intestines where there appears to be a whole family. Did she consume herself, too?
The cast shows talent, but Elephant, which has some funny moments, proves more an exercise for actors than a vehicle to show their chops, because it's not clear where Hendrick is going with her points. She makes several: truth is brutal, never lie to those you love; love can consume. But, the script, dotted with profound one-liners, doesn't really care about the characters. So, they remain thin, flat. Campion Hall plays Fanny; Chris Geary is her brother, Les; Suzy Fay, as the mother, cavorts comfortably in a blood-stained butcher's apron; Jessica Howell and Vincent Wagner round out the cast as Fran and Gusto.