Saturday, August 25, 2007

PLAY: FRINGE, "Elephant in the Room"

The phrase "inspired by" isn't the most inspiring thing to see linked to a play. Playwrights all too often wind up simply aping a plot and forget to add their own plot. This is, sadly, the case with Dan Fogler's adaptation of Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros. The good news is that Dan Fogler is a funny man--you might remember him from 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee or the upcoming Balls of Fury movie--and he instills his new play, Elephant in the Room! with energetic piles of comedy, like a stack of funny flapjacks, piled high and drenched in silly syrup. The bad news is that when the sugar high of Fogler's wit runs out--toward the beginning of Act Two--there's about as little holding the play together as there is holding the scroll-like sets in place.

Going to see Elephant in the Room! then is a means to sample the various talents of gifted comic actors; to see them, if you will, in their natural habitat of reckless, unrestrained comedy. Bjorn Thorstad, with his rubbery torso and quizzical voice, brings to mind Ace Ventura; Johnny Giacalone, with his wavering body language and self-effacing demeanor, could double as Adam Sandler; and Jordan Gelber, with his fiery presence and sloppy charm, is reminiscent of Fogler himself. The show is stolen by Ariel Shafir's transformation from a slick, domineering businessman into an elephant, and his vocal and physical control justify the protracted, over-the-top scene. This is a recurring theme of Fogler's work: the actors qualify the text, going above and beyond to sell the material.

Ultimately, there are too many things that the cast can't sell: aside from all of the pop culture references (from South Park to some odd goggle-masked exclamation) and the clunky scenes (a pot-based government, several satirical addresses from our beloved Bush), the play's moral conceit makes very little sense, bogged down as it is. Ionesco had a distinct target and purpose in his work; Fogler's target doesn't seem to extend beyond the third row. What is the Elephant in the Room!? I don't know; try standing still and I'll throw this pie in your face.

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