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Unemployed Elephants-a Love Story

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Wendy Graf’s new play, Unemployed Elephants - A Love Story uses the conventions of romantic comedy to chart the relationship of two not-quite ugly Americans abroard. Abroad in Myanmar, to be exact.

 

Jane (Brea Bee) and Alex (Marshall McCabe) meet in the Bankok airport, and it is irritation at first sight. Following familiar rom-com tropes, they wind up sitting in the same row on the airplane where they continue their argument. They run into each other in customs and then, unbelievably, in every sense of the word, find they’re staying in the same hotel.

 

Jane is a jilted bride on her pre-paid honeymoon trip. She is hoping this tour will ease her pain, though she hides the facts by explaining that she won the trip. Alex claims to be on assignment for Animal Planet, working on a story about the unemployed elephants of Myanmar. He also repeatedly changes his story and then cheerfully admits that he’s lying.

The story about the elephants is both true and charming. Unfortunately, neither of those words apply to Graf’s characters. Romantic comedies usually require a certain suspension of disbelief, but the best ones work because we truly invest in the belief that the central couple belongs together. But Graf is unable to convince us that Alex and Jane are soulmates. In fact, when Jane decides to leave her tour and travel with Alex, we worry for her sanity.

There have been a few successful and strongly written two-character romantic plays like Chapter Two and Two for the Seesaw, but many more have been gimmicky plays which quickly feel dated like Same Time, Next Year and 6 Rms Riv Vu. Unfortunately, Unemployed Elephants feels like it belongs in the latter camp. There are quite a few laughs and some amusing situations at the start, but the banter and the constant lies soon become tedious.

That said, both Bee and McCabe throw themselves into their roles and do their best to keep us interested. Maria Gobetti directs the piece with precision and a keen understanding of comic timing. Evan Bartoletti’s spare, but attractive, set is nicely enhanced by Nick Santiago’s projections to create a feeling of faraway places.

ANOTHER VIEW by Leigh Kennicott

Mynmar might seem an unlikely place to set a romantic comedy, but Wendy Graf’s scintallating Unemployed Elephants skirts the difficulties in depicting a country presently expunging an entire population of Muslims by presenting it in a series of Western-catered hotels, back before the trouble began.  We watch Jane (Brea Bee) and Alex (Marshall McCabe) meet-cute in an airline lounge, and follow as they run into each other again along the way, as they pursue different paths heading in the same direction.


Both have compelling reasons to travel that are revealed throughout the course of the play, but Alex’s story about unemployed elephants seems the most implausible. This tidbit, though, is actually the truest of the stories they relate as they warily circle each other before giving way to their obvious fascination.


The two-hander, spiritedly directed by co-founder, Maria Gobetti, moves through the stages of love, and, although predictable, actors Bee and McCabe draw sparks that engage and entertain.  Since the play is a frothy romantic comedy, Graf’s cinematic approach may be forgiven for leaps in the progression that might be proceed more leasurely in a longer piece. But the final reversal, which cries out for more jeopardy, meets very little resistance to its resolution.


The actors are admirably abetted by their surroundings created by set designer Evan A. Bartoletti.  His spare set features a complex of screens backprojecting each scene (curated by Nick Santiago), while stage-blocks, that staple of the rehearsal hall, provide tables, chairs, beds and couches.  Noah Andrade’s original sound and composition augments the visual to finalize a sense of total environment. Rounding out the production team, Meagan Evers’ costumes are colorful while adding an authentic touch. Lamentably, Carol Doehring’s light wash helps the Little Victory’s tiny forestage, but whites out as much as half of the rear projections.


Unemployed Elephants is a frothy meringue; a welcome respite from the daily dose of craziness we’re dished up on a daily basis; and I say, get thee to the Little Victory to enjoy this delicious dessert.

 

Unemployed Elephants continues  at the Little Victory Theatre, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM through April 21st, Sundays at 4:00 PM ONLY through April 15th. The Victory Theatre Center is located at 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank 91505. Tickets: $24.00 – 34.00. Phone (818) 841-5422.  For information online: www.victorytheatrecenter.org.


 

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.