Of Showmen and Shamans: “Elephant Room” at the Plays & Players Theater
Had Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge been furnished in 1970s nostalgia baroque and inhabited by a trio of dotty illusionists swathed in velour, the resulting spectacle would have borne remarkable similarity to the Elephant Room (part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival). Written and performed by LAB Fellows Geoff Sobelle (Pig Iron Theatre), Steve Cuiffo, and Trey Lyford, the production serves up a pastiche of prestidigatory delights and vaudevillian antics.
The wittily crafted Daryl Hannah, Dennis Diamond, and Louie Magic appear to have sprung from the womb of a cocktail lounge in a temporally dislocated resort-casino just outside Fabulous Las Vegas. They are calling all rubes for a shamanistic journey into their extradimensional dwelling unbound by geographic borders or laws of gravity. In an impressive sleight of set design, its stage-within-a-stage boasts floor-to-ceiling teal and taupe, taxidermied curiosities, and light bulbs that lactate when unscrewed.
Their grab bag of novelty act standards includes levitation, mentalism, sawing audience participants in half, and transmogrifying a silk handkerchief into lady’s lingerie. Certain of these parlor tricks are outrageously entertaining, others make use of surreal slapstick and deliberately awkward execution to expose the mundane mechanisms by which illusions operate. At its most fantastical, the piece appropriates the familiar vocabulary of the magic show to point to broader consensual manipulation of perception onstage and off. In these moments, it makes us acutely aware of the elephant in the room and tests the limits of our willing suspension of disbelief.
An actual elephant may also appear.
Elephant Room continues its run at the Plays and Players Theater until September 17th. This will assuredly be a favorite, so advance tickets are recommended.