BWW Review: ROOSEVELVIS: On the Road with Teddy and Elvis
Created by the TEAM: Rachel Chavkin, Libby King, Jake Margolin, & Kristen Sieh, with Matt Hubbs, Andrew Schneider, & Nick Vaughan; Set Design, Nick Vaughan; Video Design, Andrew Schneider; Sound Design, Matt Hubbs; Lighting Design, Austin R. Smith; Costume Design, Kristen Sieh; Production Stage Manager, Meg Mcdonald; Director, Rachel Chavkin
Performances through May 29 at Oberon, 2 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA; Box Office 617-547-8300 or americanrepertorytheater.org
RoosevElvis is the latest production of the TEAM, a Brooklyn-based ensemble dedicated to making new work about the experience of living in America today. It is a character study of Ann, a shy, and perhaps depressed, worker at a meat-processing plant, who fantasizes that she comes home to share her day and her troubles with Elvis Presley. He is her idol and her guardian angel, offering advice and giving her courage. With his encouragement, Ann connects with a woman through an online dating site, but their time spent in person doesn't go so well. However, Brenda's harsh observations motivate Ann to embark on a pilgrimage to Graceland and a much-needed journey of self-discovery.
The broad scope of the story line cannot be contained within the small stage of Oberon, but the TEAM makes liberal use of film to chronicle the road trip from the Badlands to Graceland, providing a panoramic view of the wide open spaces of the passing countryside. The spirit of Elvis is partnered with the spirit of that great outdoorsman, Theodore Roosevelt, and the two accompany Ann as traveling companions. Libby King plays Ann/Elvis, and Kristen Sieh plays Brenda/Teddy, morphing repeatedly from one persona to the other, and the play becomes as much about the different kind of men they were, as well as the contributions each of them made to America.
The fusion of stage and screen, music and dance, humor and pathos, and gender bending portrayals adds up to an unusual and fanciful piece of entertainment. With the help of wigs, facial hairpieces, and Sieh's evocative costume designs, King and Sieh change their appearances sufficiently to contribute to our suspension of disbelief. In addition, they both alter their voices just enough to convey the King's southern drawl and the Rough Rider's patrician roots. King and Sieh are co-creators of RoosevElvis, along with Director Rachel Chavkin, Jake Margolin, Matt Hubbs (also sound designer), Andrew Schneider (also video designer), and Nick Vaughan (also set designer), and lighting designer is Austin R. Smith.
The inclusion of film is also a nod to the importance of the medium in the life and career of Presley. Although much of the video was shot for the purposes of this production, there are also several segments of Thelma & Louise which play from time to time in the background on Ann's television. You may want to draw your own conclusions about the connection between that iconic road trip/buddy film and the imagined pairing of Teddy and Elvis, but adventure and daring seem to be a common thread.