Think back to that oddball uncle who always showed up at your birthday party with a trick up his sleeve. You remember him. Loud blazer, toothy grin, something not quite right about his hair. But he could pull coins from your ear, guess the card in your hand, and make a dollar bill whole again. Whatever happened to that guy?
Out of left field — and to what I imagine will be some surprise from their season subscribers — Arena Stage has decided to answer that question for us. Elephant Room features not one, not two, but three of that guy, all banded together and with more tricks up their sleeves than ever before. What comes flying out at us — and which lands with a rewarding sense of splatter — is a whole shuffle of bizarre ideas from a netherland somewhere between magic routine and sketch comedy. It’s loud, it’s toothy. And yes, now that we’re looking more closely, there is definitely something not quite right about their hair.
Through interviews like this one, DC is starting to realize that Elephant Room is not actually a play. Abandon all hope for a plot, ye who enter here. What this is, ultimately, is a 75-minute act of misdirection. The feat this trio accomplishes — and they accomplish it with aplomb — is to make us fall wholeheartedly for their deformed brainchild of a show, which is in various moments a stage play without a story, a magic show half-comprised of boneheaded dollar-store gags, and an avant-garde art piece that provides, in its own weird way, some unexpectedly engaging sequences of absurdist performance art.
By the time we’ve looked back over all the special effects, the evening well-nigh adds up to something real, and really fun. Friday’s audience was laughing out loud almost constantly. I dare say that’s the name of the game in the Kogod Cradle for the next few weeks.
Part of the reason we fall for the tricks, even the obvious ones, is that they’re presented with such crazed gusto by the magicians, who call themselves Louie Magic (short for Louis Magic), Dennis Diamond (aptly dubbed, given some of his sparkly outfits) and Daryl Hannah (yes, that’s actually his real name). There is no irony to their trailer-park outfits, no taste of tongue-in-cheek during their Napoleon Dynamite dance routines, and nothing to temper their skewed view of their own massive importance in the world. One might ask, is there a self-aware undercurrent of parody running throughout the whole show? The answer is, well, yes, of course, except I’m not sure the writers have told the magicians just yet.
So we follow Magic, Diamond, and Hannah through some deeply silly spells of dance choreography, a few speedy rounds of audience participation (pick a card, any card…) and some pretty handy tricks that include, but are far from limited to, making the contents of their dumpy old living room levitate, transform, appear and re-appear, dissolve and un-dissolve, and move around on their own. The three men’s capacity for physical comedy, plus a few unexpectedly interesting stream-of-consciousness monologues, add some necessary color and shape to the more standard collection of pocket illusions and parlor magic, by which we’re moderately wowed. Plus the ongoing question — what’s with the title? — finally gets its payoff just when you thought the proverbial sleeves were running empty.
Our three wisecracking wizards have clearly been gorging their egos on all their own nifty stunts, but their cocky flair turns out to be a blessing. It’s fairly entertaining to watch some slight of hand — and theirs, if nothing revolutionary, is still quite good — but the real comedy lies in their reaction to our oohs and aahs: a swelling of cheeky pride, and big smirks that say, We told you we were awesome. In the end it doesn’t matter which card you pulled — it’s clear that these guys are a club of aces.
Created by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford, and Geoff Sobelle
Directed by Paul Lazar
Presented by Arena Stage
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
Running Time: 75 minutes without intermission