The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room
nytheatre.com review by Ryan Emmons
August 13, 2008
Here is a show that is so honest with itself and its audience about what it is that you cannot help but sit back and enjoy the ride. The play is structured similarly to [title of show] and in fact calls itself out on this towards the end. It opens with Edmond, a playwright who is trying to write a play. The show is aware of its theatricality from the start: Edmond is constantly explaining theatrical devices to the audience or typing out loud "the lights shift" as the lights on stage shift. The characters are always aware that what is actually happening on stage is not very good, but at least it is what people expect/want to see.
The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room is about what it takes to get an audience into a theatre. Edmond is in a constant battle between what he wants to write and what he needs to write. The concept of the play therefore leads to nudity, violence, simulated sex, cross dressing, some very bad words, and five flamboyantly gay characters.
Larson Rose does an excellent job in directing such a trashy play (that he also wrote). This is a play that could easily reprimand and bite the audience for coming just for cheap thrills, but this production never does more than point out the frivolousness of this kind of theatre. Our leading character Edmond suggests that perhaps one day people will be ready for a different kind of theatre but that it is not his battle to fight—the battle he is fighting is to get an audience. Behind every taboo act there is little reason why it is happening other than that this is what sells and creates a stir (or press). The question of The Naked Dead Elephant in the Middle of the Room becomes, what am I looking for when I go to a play?
Edmond's boyfriend Jack is played by Jim deProphetis who is convincing in any scenario that Edmond writes him into, from having sex with a critic (Jesse Stewart) to cheating on his boyfriend with a tall man dressed like Scarlett O'Hara (played by Zach Held). Keith Broughton plays Edmond. The fifth character is a silent role played by Roy James Brown. The gimmick here is that it would be too expensive to pay an actor who has lines, so they just use "the house manager." This leads to a very funny bit of audience participation when a fifth character is needed to say a line.
Overall the acting is, very much like the plot, supported by very little. I never got the sense that these characters believed what was happening on stage was real. It seemed as though they knew as well as the audience that any scene could be re-written and that this was in fact a play. Everything was a little bit funny to the actors on stage, even if someone was being shot. I could not tell if this was a case of intentionally bad acting , but what I got was this: you do not need good acting or a rotating set or almost any plot or cool lighting—all you need is five guys willing to drop their shorts and expose. . .the true motivation of what attracts people to the theatre.