Everyone’s a little bit racist

Elephant Girls

Written by Carl Gonzalez
Directed by Derek Jamison
Emerging Artists Theatre
Theatre 5
311 W. 43rd St., 5th Floor
(www.eatheatre.org; 212-352-3101)
Equity showcase (closes March 4th)
Review by Byrne Harrison

Elephant Girls is a show that at first glance seems to have a lot going for it. It features a cast of talented, seasoned actors. The topic, the hidden and not-so-hidden racism in suburban America, especially toward Muslims, couldn’t be timelier. The director, Derek Jamison, has a proven track record. So why doesn’t this production work? Ultimately, the blame rests with Carl Gonzalez’s bloated and uneven play.

New Jersey housewife Claire (Glory Gallo) is hosting a Kozy Kitchen party - something along the lines of a Tupperware party - with her mother, Frances (Vivian Meisner), sister Beth (Amy Bizjak), and friends Vicki (Lué McWilliams) and Jasmine (Gameela Wright). Due to a water main incident that may or may not be terrorism, Robina, the Muslim tutor of Claire’s 12-year old daughter, is stuck at the party after stopping by to drop off Casey’s homework. Hijinks ensue.

The play seems to have been written with checklist in hand. Inappropriate comments made to Robina by the racist and outspoken Amy? Check. The assumption that Robina is a terrorist because she is Muslim? Check. A debate about the treatment of women here and in Afghanistan? Check. The veneer of civility worn away and hideous racism exposed? Check. That’s not to say that there isn’t good writing. Gonzalez has an ear for dialogue and he knows how to play on an audience’s expectations. There are some genuinely amusing moments. And it is fascinating to hear the audience’s reaction to the intentionally racist jokes and comments – the initial gasp is followed by guilty laughter, either at the joke or the character that has the audacity to make it.

The acting in Elephant Girls is good, drawing as it does on several Emerging Artists veterans. Lué McWilliams is amusing as the frenetic Kozy Kitchen representative. Gameela Wright, who was excellent in the EATFest 2006 play Five Minutes, proves to have strong comic skills, as well as a deft touch with drama. Amy Bizjak, Glory Gallo, Vivian Meisner, and newcomer Sarah Miriam Aziz all give solid performances. Meisner, in particular, must be given credit for being true to her character, even in the eye-rollingly ridiculous climax of the play. The cast had good chemistry, as well. It would be nice to see this combination of actors again.

There are several things to like about Elephant Girls. In this case, however, the whole is not equal to the sum of those parts.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

Copyright 2007 Byrne Harrison

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