According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Elephant Girls

Part of the Triple Threat Series at Emerging Artists Theatre

Restless,discontent and Republican, Jersey housewives hurl the spotlight on the Afghani elephant in the room during a Kozy Kitchen party that brings out the truth in everyone's characters. Saturated with off-color humor and middle-eastern ignorance, Elephant Girls illuminates US commercialism and excess with cartoonish tactics and garishly far-fetched results.

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Riddled with elephantine symbolism, the sardonic perspective on the US' foreign politics and domestic obtuseness is hardly elusive in Carl Gonzalez' Elephant Girls. From its inception, Elephant Girls lobs us over the head with sentiments that don't pardon the pun, and drill into our heads that the religion, politics, and creeds of the characters are ponderous in size and influence. Nary a second to appraise the dialogue, behavior and general mood of the piece, we are assaulted with a rather strong disposition: this ain't a garden-variety, politically correct drama. Though jolting and downright repugnant, this near-campy production succeeds in making us squirm in our seats. And perhaps that is exactly the type of unrest that some of us need.

Set in a quaint, comfortable living room, the cosiness of this theatrical experience stops with the backdrop. Enter Beth (a cantankerous, impassioned Amy Bizjak), the bullhorn of glib opinions. Gonzalez has depicted her as both the comic relief and the villain, dependant upon your sensitivities. She begins the drama heavily engrossed in an urban video game. You'll have to suspend your disbelief of a 30-something housewife playing this game and talking the talk, if only to understand Gonzalez' inflated point about "ghetto entertainment."Her banter with Claire(an even Glory Gallo), her more appeasing and apologetic sister, over the violent and cliched points of the game sets the tone for what unfolds as an exaggerated, bigoted performance. But she's not the only close-minded one, merely the most vocal.

Beth is even tasteless enough to direct her ethnic slurs towards Jasmine (a natural Gameela Wright), friend and sole African-American presence. Jasmine's inclusion in the drama seems odd and unjustified in light of the intolerance, but when she chimes in with her own narrow-minded viewpoints, her race fades in importance as does her pride. Although Beth's slurs are lighthearted and seemingly in jest, I wonder why it takes several jabs for Jasmine to react. Frances (a likable Vivian Meisner), mother to Claire and Beth, is the senior, verbally least offensive character of the piece. With varying degrees of intolerance, these women all like to think of themselves as Elephant Girls (likened in one instance to John Merrick as the Elephant Man), basically good on the inside, but monstrous on the outside. Yet, their hideousness is only demonstrated, never uttered, relieving them of any kind of responsibility. That their environment is passively identified as the source for their ugly behavior is trite when made in comparison to the aging of an Afghani girl in a portrait.

Using a reprint of National Geographic's famous cover photo The Afghan girl from 1982, the ladies speculate over the subject of Casey's (Claire's never to be seen daughter) school paper with condescension and false sympathy. The action revs up when their proclaimed Afghani "dartboard" is made flesh by the unexpected arrival of Casey's math tutor Robina to the party. We soon learn from Vicki (a vibrant and whirlwind Lue McWilliams), the tardy Kozy Kitchen product peddler, that a water main has broken, obstructing the roads and Robina's departure.

Robina, gracious and full of integrity, is the antithesis of everyone else. Replete with American trivia and history, she shames them during the party games and upsets their ideas of privilege. As Robina, Sarah Miriam Aziz is modest in her superiority. Every inflection of her invoice is filled with composure, curiosity and benevolence. Robina could have easily been on the offensive, biting back in response to the barrage of insults. She chooses to educate them instead, and does so with poise. As a symbol, she validates the Afghani population in the US as patriots and survivors of what the five housewives couldn't even begin to contemplate. Her resilience to tell the truth is admirable, and is a stark contrast and stab at the Bush administration's dissemination of information on the War in Iraq and other foreign involvement in middle-eastern countries. The playwright is, however, remiss in not including Casey as a character in the play. She is the primary factor in both plot and subplot, and should have been represented as the malleable, innocent child implied. Her physical presence would have made the moral conundrums in the drama even more daunting, as that is one of the major points of concentration.

With trumped up paranoia and hatred, Elephant Girls awakens even the most latent of our prejudices. Using the microcosm of a New Jersey household, it is easy to apply them to the broader scope of the American vote. What is not so easy is the elimination of ingrained attitudes and notions. With those in harness, they may be just as ominous as the potential for someone to "jihad us all."
Through March 4th. Theatre 5 311 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10036
Tickets: 212-352-3101 Info: 212-247-2429

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