The Elephant in My Closet has already appeared in festivals in Cincinnati, Dallas, and Charleston, South Carolina, but the Capital Fringe could be the ideal place to see this one-man show: its climax comes in a voting booth when David Lee Nelson selects Obama.
An autobiographical story told by Nelson on a bare stage with an image-packed slideshow, The Elephant is a deeply layered and captivating performance. Directed by Adam Knight it weaves together two different journeys: the development of the Republican Party in the United States and Nelson’s path from staunch conservative Republican to Democrat. The monologue is both sincere and informative, the product of in-depth research into dates, facts, and states plus some witty one-liners and poignant reflections.
It’s impressive how much history Nelson holds in his head: extending from the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the founding of the Republican Party in Ripon, Wisconsin to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1984 when he won 49 of 50 states. Nelson interjects his personal observations, like how politics seems to be a team sport and “your team winning is all that matters,” and beautifully untangles the web of “filial piety.”
In other words, allegiance to his father meant allegiance to the Republican Party and when Nelson saw more of the world and other people’s experiences, he no longer could follow the party he had held so dear in his childhood and early 20s. At one point he noticed the incongruence of his pastimes and his politics, wondering if he is the only 22 year old, pot-smoking actor who performs Shakespearean plays and is a Republican.
The Elephant in My Closet
by David Lee Nelson
at Caos on F
923 F Street NW
Washington, DC, 20004
Details and tickets
The show impressed me because it does not try to explain or excuse the passion of politics, but rather describes the process of becoming deeply entrenched and slowly disillusioned. I especially appreciated how Nelson acknowledges the dissonance of caring deeply for a parent and having no way of discussing political views.
He makes clear that political beliefs are as much emotional as they are intellectual, and I savored the way he sought some common ground with his father after “coming out” about his beliefs. Topics like a favorite football team are not as toxic as who is in the White House, yet can offer some shared experiences that reinforce filial bonds.
Caos on F is a great venue for the show: chairs are set up in rows and Nelson speaks from a slightly raised platform. It almost feels like a college lecture. I started to wonder how conservatives or Republicans would experience the show. I asked a friend who was with me what he thought. His reply, “Do they come to the Fringe?”
Politics are a divisive topic; The Elephant in my Closet provides a smart and much-needed way to explore multiple viewpoints.