Solo shows that spring from the launching pad of personal experience and dive into the pools of commentary on the human condition are nothing new. How to Eat an Elephant, written by and starring Cigdem Oktem, adheres to this structure but never taps into the emotional depths needed to make it a success.
Ostensibly about growing up with a Turkish family, this one woman show covers a myriad of topics that, although well-written and peppered with verbosity and eloquence, fail to weave themselves together to form emotional or narrative connectivity. Oktem possesses an ease and grace that creates a relaxed environ from the moment she enters the stage and begins speaking; however, that level of calm stillness never fluctuates, creating a constant lull that, although pleasant, does not incite real emotional connection from the audience.
Cigdem really finds her stride, and, one would dare to say, the heart of her piece, when she launches into an anecdote about encountering a disabled soldier at an airport, and she skillfully links this moment to Japanese theories of quantum mechanics as they relate to water, matter, and emotions. Most of her other stories, although enjoyable enough to listen to (as an avid Dr. Who fan, I was tickled when the BBC show came to the forefront), fail to engage or weave together more than a few narrative threads at a time and leave no lasting effects once the words have left her mouth.
This is a piece that perhaps would be better received on radio; Oktem’s pleasant tones and eloquent speech were reminiscent of NPR’s “This American Life” but just didn’t have enough chutzpah, enough energy and charisma, to fill the stage space. Perhaps with better direction, this promising piece could realize its potential that, at moments, glimmered just out of reach.
Written and performed by Cigdem Oktem
Produced by Eating an Elephant Productions
Reviewed by Anna Brungardt