Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Elephant in Every Room I Enter

The Elephant in Every Room I Enter
co-created by Gardiner Comfort and Kel Haney

produced by LaMaMa
directed by Kel Haney
with Gardiner Comfort
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repeated involuntary outbursts – or “tics” – verbal and physical. Gardinar Comfort is a person with TS, active in the NYC Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association. The Elephant in Every Room I Enter is his solo show, co-created by him and the show’s director, Kel Haney. 
A solo presented on a bare stage show is the most personal theater. It demands enormous honesty (not to say courage) on the part of the creator, and bravo to anyone who embarks on the perilous route. I hesitate to call this show autobiographical; it focuses for the most part on one event in Comfort’s life, a week TS conference in Washington DC.
One of the play’s important functions is to educate, and it’s great to see a playwright show us that theater as education is not trivial in content or cogency
Since Tourette’s tics are involuntary, Comfort’s tic turns up many times during the course of the show, which is something more than an hour long without intermission. His tic is a cough – he calls it “disgusting” – and we hear it many times. It isn’t disgusting, actually; it’s merely extremely annoying. But it’s expected. 
Indeed, Comfort’s tic – its very annoyance – is part of the presentation, a way the show makes its point. Comfort discusses his condition and exhibits it as well. It’s not only apparent, it disrupts the flow of the monologue. It gives an immediacy to the presentation, and a distancing that’s the aspiration of productions that work for alienation. It’s a spontaneous mechanism of verfremdungseffect.
Comfort’s work explores elemental questions of theater.  Should we be involved? Should theater discuss or present? Should it be metaphor?
As is so often said, the more personal art is, the more universal it is. One of Comfort’s achievements is that he presents his pathology as something we can relate to. He describes his reaction to the TS Association meeting: “For the first time in my life it was actually normal to have Tourette”. “Hearing all those different ticks,” he tells us, “it was like I didn’t have Tourette”. It’s the honesty, the truth of the statement that keeps it from being a blunt instrument. This is quite an accomplishment.
Comfort’s acting is at its best when he imitates in a rush of words the many varied tics he hears at the conference. He manages somehow to give the monologue humor, another instrument of verfremdungseffect
For all Comfort’s achievements, The Elephant in Every Room I Enter lacks elements this sort of theater needs. There’s little contrast. Comfort expresses depth of emotion only once, and that’s in the final moment. Strictly in terms of style, the writing is routine. 
But what fascinating items we find in fringe theater! What would we do without it?

Steve Capra
October 2014