Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 19, 2008
Hype is the enemy of sound honest discourse; the hype for Duncan Pflaster's MITF entry, Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants, is expressed as a "warning" that the play contains "crude profanity, full-frontal nudity, and iambic pentameter; may not be suitable for all audiences."
Trevor does indeed have some iambic pentameter and may not be suitable for everyone, but the profanity is no cruder than anything you'd hear in a R-rated film and the nudity is in fact not full-frontal—the two men who shed the lower parts of their wardrobes on stage remain covered from the waist up. More to the point, neither the profanity nor the nudity feels like it needs to be in this play; the adjectives I'd use to describe Prince Trevor are sweet and earnest, and I mean neither to be at all pejorative. Pflaster has created a modern fairy tale with a moral that is worthwhile and timely—that one person's actions can make a difference; that petty tyrants and demagogues can be toppled like so many mythic dragons if people will only band together and make something happen.
The vehicle Pflaster has fashioned for telling this story involves a mythical kingdom that has just ended long years of being at war. The old warrior king abdicates in favor of his eldest son, Tater, who turns out to be even more imperialistic in his policies than his Dad (the resemblance to the two George Bushes felt entirely intentional, especially in Jon Crefeld's drawling and self-satisfied performance as Tater). The youngest son, Trevor, is dispatched to marry Queen Bluebella. Trevor, though, is in love with a stable boy named Toby, and halfway to Bluebella's castle, Trevor and his servant Grumbelino decide to swap identities (Grumbelino is rampantly heterosexual and eager to improve his lot). A variety of fairy-tale occurrences follow, and the passive Trevor learns about courageousness and responsibility in their wake.
The details of the story are intentionally inspired by many popular sources, from the Brothers Grimm to The Wizard of Oz to Into the Woods. I liked very much the way Pflaster stitched all these old saws together to make a new fairy tale that really is for adults (as the show's subtitle proclaims) and that is actually resonant and even actionable: Trevor really does learn something here, and it's something everyone in the audience can likely stand to be reminded of.
What doesn't work, for me, is the occasional grafting onto the story of elements that are sometimes winkingly naughty (such as Queen Bluebella's harem of scantily clad eunuchs) and other times broadly Ridiculous (in the Ludlam vein; the chief example is the costuming for the Elephants of Style, which is gaudily inspired by burlesque). Neither of these concepts are applied with any kind of consistency, and in fact mostly feel like ways to provide the advertised crudeness and nudity, neither of which is ultimately delivered in any satisfying way. Better, I suggest, for Pflaster to have simply stayed true to the really lovely and smart theme of his story.
The show moves fairly briskly under Pflaster's own direction, and features several commendable performances, notably Paula Galloway as Bluebella's lusty but pragmatic lady's maid and Carlos Rafael Fernandez as Prince Trevor.