Like a lot of plays recently (McQueen, Song Of Riots etc.), RoosevElvis has the actors on stage as the audience enter the auditorium. In this case we can only see the back of a head and a leg as the two actors are hidden by the back of a large sofa as they watch “Thelma & Louise” on television.
When they emerge, they are in fact “Teddy Roosevelt” (played by Kristen Sieh) and “Elvis Presley” (played by Libby King). They sit themselves down on a couple of high stools and proceed to bat facts about themselves back and forewords trying to outdo each other with lines such as “I ran for New York State Assembly and I got it. I was only 23” to which Elvis responds with “I was 19 when they first played me on the radio”. This verbal ping-pong goes on for a while before they run off and re-emerge as Ann (played by King) and Brenda (played by Sieh).
We’re in Ann’s apartment as she arrives home from work and opens a bottle of beer. We know she works in a meatpacking factory as on the screens on the left hand side of the stage which is laid out like a video editing suite we see her she goes about her daily grind; the right hand stage acting as Ann’s apartment. She’s obviously bored with this mundane job and her boring existence and to compensate she imagines Elvis is living with her, questioning her about her day. Brenda who’s a taxidermist who Ann has met on the internet emerges from the bathroom – bringing some excitement into Ann’s humdrum life. Brenda realises Ann need some motivation and suggests they go off on an adventure in an RV (mobile home) to visit Mount Rushmore. This is cleverly depicted by using the couch as the seats of the RV and some interesting and superbly shot video which is shown on the screens on the left hand side of the stage and a large screen behind them. During the trip, Ann bears her soul and we discover she wants to visit Graceland but has never been on a plane and is too scared to go alone.
We then cut back to Ann’s apartment where she’s back to normality and she and Elvis talk about her day. Later on Teddy re-appears this time in Ann’s apartment and he and Elvis spar both verbally and physically as Teddy dons some boxing gloves and it’s now obvious that the two men are figments of Ann’s fertile imagination as she has an existential battle with her sexuality and the masculine part of her that’s fighting to get out.
There’s a lot more of the two male characters as Ann gathers up her courage and sets off on a road trip and the two men seem to take on a life of their own. We then see more of “Thelma & Louise” on the video screens cut-together with “Elvis & Teddy” in a convertible Cadillac in exactly the same scenario as the movie as they too gloriously drive off a cliff. We then cut to Ann at the gates of Graceland having completed her journey both spiritually and metaphorically.
There’s an awful lot going on in RoosevElvis and it’s a complex and stimulating piece about gender, sexuality, loneliness, coming out and the problem of being a gay woman in a man’s world. Both actors are superb in their dual roles and the audience genuinely feel for Ann’s predicament. Sieh plays a mutton-chopped Roosevelt with a touch of Katherine Hepburn’s clipped tones and King brings an energy to the karate loving, momma’s boy Elvis. They also dance, fight, ride exercise machines, sing, play guitar and move the furniture around – the piece certainly doesn’t lack vitality.
At times there’s possibly to much going on onstage especially as there are various different videos going on in the screens and the message becomes a little obscured. The production company TEAM is exactly that and the play has been created by seven people including King and Sieh so it truly is a collaborative work. However, that may be part of the problem that stops RoosevElvis being a great piece – too many cooks etc. At times it’s a bit muddled and with so much crammed into 100 minutes, maybe a little pruning would have resulted in a more cohesive message and a more satisfying theatrical experience for the audience.
Review by Alan Fitter
On a hallucinatory road trip from the Badlands to Graceland, the spirits of Elvis Presley and Theodore Roosevelt battle over the soul of Ann, a painfully shy meat-processing plant worker, and what kind of man or woman Ann should become. Set against the boundless blue skies of the Great Plains and endless American highway, RoosevElvis is a new work about gender, appetite, and the multitudes we contain.
The TEAM is a Brooklyn-based ensemble dedicated to creating new work about the experience of living in America today.
The TEAM’s RoosevElvis at The Royal Court
The TEAM’s RoosevElvis is written by Rachel Chavkin, Libby King, Jake Margolin, and Kristen Sieh. Created in collaboration with Matt Hubbs, Andrew Schneider, and Nick Vaughan. It is performed by Libby King and Kristen Sieh. Rachel Chavkin directs.
Age Restrictions: Age Guidance 14 Years+
Show Opened: 21st October 2015
Booking Until: 14th November 2015
Important Information: Captioned Performance – 11th November, 2015 evening
Audio Described Performance – 14th November, 2015 matinee