Ambitious in its desire doesn’t even begin to describe the world premier of “Elephant Shavings” written and directed by RON SOSSI, and I mean that in the kindest most complimentary sense. These two things are usually seen as negatives but when they are used to seek something that is a net positive for all, like enlightenment and understanding, isn’t that perception solely in the eye of beholder? It’s these types of questions that “Elephant Shavings” attempts to tackle and man do I admire anyone who grapples with these existential conundrums.
After all, isn’t that why we come to the theatre? To figure stuff out. Sure it can be soothing to laugh at a comedy and this show can make you chuckle, but most of the time we learn what not to do by watching others get mired in their mistakes. Wasn’t it Chekhov who helped us understand that you should never give the woman you love a dead seagull as a gift? Ok that was a joke, but the idea of watching a woman explore every single spiritual teaching to find what fits isn’t.
DIANA CIGNONI, as “Lizzie”, undertakes this arduous journey for us. She is the lone doer in a sea of talking heads. Constantly overshadowed by thespians too far up their own training to see the breadth of their pretentiousness she finds a way to start to find herself. “Peter”, “Sam”, and “Erin” played by JACK GEREN, JEFF LEBEAU, and CAMERON MEYER represent a spectrum of conflicting belief systems that can consume a persons identity. They do a great job of playing their parts as actors trying to be authentic, which ultimately means they can never really stop acting. I honestly thought the play was going to be nothing but their pontificating and postulating so it was a breath of fresh air when it pivoted.
Though the show pivoted away from them it seemed like a bit of a waste to only see these actors for a fraction of the show’s run time. There were other possible “roles” for them to represent and any number of ways to utilize their talents. However, that might have meant removing precious clips of actual spiritual leaders played on a TV screen and heard via voiceover. In a play about shaving off the excess, the real elephant in the room became that large TV screen that we and Lizzie often watch.
The use of the screen does provide one delightful Benny Hill type moment, but it would have been nice let the other ensemble members flex their skill by inhabiting those chosen few. This show has a lot of artistic elements like dream sequences, mini dance numbers, voice overs, multimedia presentations, etc, and it can be hard to weave these all together and make them fit. For example, a really fun mystery element makes a few appearances on that screen and then gets lost later in the show and isn’t talked about again. The stage design team helmed by JAN MUNROE did such a good job incorporating this element into the activity of the show and their overall design and execution was excellent so it would have been exciting to see more of it.
In fact, it is easy to get lost in the plethora of allusions and teachings included in this experience. The first major scene is a lovely ode to the evolution of theatre and training, but I fear that someone without a PHD in Fine Arts could be left in the dark.
Our guiding lights come in the form of DENISE BLASOR as “Pearl” and GIOVANNA QUINTO as “Jill”. Both of these women provide warmth and energy that injects life into the show when it needs a spark the most.
They pop and sizzle all over the stage spreading their charisma deep into the bones of the audience like a Puerto Rican Sopa or a Brazilian Feijoada. Even if the theatre had left the A/C on 56 degrees these two would have been able to make us feel cozy. Their ability to effortlessly connect with Lizzie bolsters her potential to gracefully achieve the goal she does not know she has.
Like Lizzie the show feels like it is searching for something that is unbelievably difficult to ascertain. Through the right lens it can be seen as a metaphor for “real life”. The transitions can be bumpy, not everything works the way you want, it can feel like time is grinding to a halt or flying right by, it can be overwhelming and uncomfortable, it can make you question everything you think you know.
You will simply have to take the journey of “Elephant Shavings” yourself, but if you can hang in there, it is worth it to eventually see… and be seen *wink, wink.*
Performances: August 26 – October 1
• Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: Aug. 23 (Preview) and Aug. 30
• Thursday at 8 p.m.: Aug. 24 (Preview) ONLY
• Fridays at 8 p.m.*: Aug. 25 (Press Preview), Sept. 1; Sept. 8; Sept. 22; Sept 29 (dark Sept. 15)
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Aug. 26 (Subscriber Opening), Sept. 2; Sept. 9; Sept. 16; Sept. 23; Sept. 30
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: Aug. 27; Sept. 3; Sept. 10; Sept. 17; Sept. 24; Oct. 1
• Monday at 8 p.m.: Sept. 18 ONLY
*Wine Nights Fridays: Enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and after the show.
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
• Previews: $20
• Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays: $25–$40
• Mondays and Wednesdays: Pay-What-You-Will (reservations open online and at the door starting at 5:30 p.m.)
(310) 477-2055 ext. 2