To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on RoosevElvis by the TEAM. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
We ran home after Thursday night’s performance from the TEAM to respond to the evening’s work while still marinated in the experience. This is a festival of performance alternatives so we thought why not craft an alternative kind of response for our speedy Re:View. We structured what’s below using a few techniques we use in our own creative process and mixed those gestures up with our feelings and ideas about this approximation of a line of text from the show:
“You’ve only known me for three days, you don’t really know me, you only know what I’ve presented to you.”
We’ve combined observational writing (what we recall was presented), time limits (what we’ve only taken 30 seconds to write and resisted editing, so we don’t really know it) and the structure of a conversation (a thing people do to get to know each other.) These responses are in our own order and are not meant to reflect the real sequence of events in the show.
WILL: Roosevelt tells a boxing story about Harvard. He got punched once after the bell because the other fighter was hard of hearing but he was cool with it because he’s cool. Roosevelt dons white boxing gloves and begins punching all over the place. He asks the tech to “Play my Planet Earth video please!” Buffalo footage begins to play. “Tatanka, ” he whispers and the audience busts out laughing. He runs to the screen and begins punching the buffalo projected there, the curtain ripples with each blow. Loud punching Foley effects happen in time with the punches. Teddy is just punching randomly at the buffalo and then…POW! Catches one in a close-up right in the nose. Next: a wider shot of the buffalo all peaceful on the range. Roosevelt runs back and forth punching several buffalo…then a super wide shot…he screams and swings more wildly punching all of the buffalo. Meanwhile, Elvis is karate chopping pizza boxes in half. Roosevelt begins a balletic dance sequence still in boxing gloves. He hisses, “YES!” every time he lands a jump. Elvis does a karate dance solo. This is not the exact order in which these things happened.
SYNIVA (30 seconds to respond to the above after hearing it read aloud): Reminds me of a girl I knew at Bryn Mawr College all sharp points and desperate edges . Brilliant, fragile seeming, but somehow the most likely to kill for profit (succeed?). Maybe she was lonely.
SYNIVA: Ann sits on a bed in a motel room. They are halfway to Graceland, I think. Ann drunk dials their former online hook-up. This person is also Teddy Roosevelt and they are seated in one of the directors chairs to the far left of the stage, mutton chops still in place, his long, thick brown hair is now in a ponytail. He answers the call, asks if Ann is fucked up…they say yes. Teddy now speaks in the voice of Ann’s old flame. Ann attempts to talk about their true self, they say they are not a man or woman they are a power, a force of nature. Ann states an alternate dimension would be a better place to live and wants to know what she thinks about this, is this a joke to her, or is this more, is this somebody worth loving? She responds that she thinks Ann is depressed and “yes”, she did tell the story to all her friends at the bar and they did laugh about it.
WILL (30 seconds to respond): This was heartbreaking, but somehow it felt like the truth, or Ann felt it was the truth. The old flame was cruel, or too blunt. They don’t really know each other.
WILL: Ann comes home from the meat packing plant with a six pack of beer in a black plastic bag. They toss their phone on the table. They throw their hat on the dish rack.They put the six pack in the fridge and grab a single beer. Ann twists the cap off (there is no sound) and throws the cap in the direction of the sink, nods decisively, then drinks deeply. They lean on the kitchen table looking toward the audience. A strangled breathing sound comes from Ann’s mouth. It could be the sound of suffocating or the faraway sound of an arena crowd. A conversation begins between Anne and Elvis. Advice is given about girls. This whole scene happens again later in a different way as if Elvis is the sympathetic best friend Ann comes home to at the end of a hard day.
SYNIVA (30 seconds): Hard to breathe, I have the feeling there are more selves present here, more selves than I can safely explain, more ghosts of those that understand me in the air than I care to remember, avoiding thoughts of my past selves that came to a bad end.
SYNIVA: An image of the Badlands is projected behind 2 rowing machines. Darkness falls onstage. The campfire light is shining on the faces of RoosevElvis because a stage tech came out and shone tiny footlights of orange at them. Elvis brings Teddy a weenie on a stick to roast and sings an out of tune and off key song he wrote on a ukulele. Elvis then admits to just writing the title, his friend Red wrote the lyrics. It’s about the love he feels for his dearly departed mother, his best friend. Elvis asks Teddy if he is like him, does he have an Ann like presence in his body too that he has conversations with? He says no but then wistfully gazes at the fake campfire and begins to embody John Muir. The performer deftly moves between Teddy’s can-do manic patriot rant and Muir’s relaxing Scottish brogue. Muir attempts to convince Teddy he could give up all the achievement based shit he does to fill the void in his heart and spend more time getting in touch with his true self while out in nature.
WILL: I’m thinking about bears. And trees.
WILL: Ann has checked into a motel with RoosevElvis. They are on a road trip. Roosevelt is restless and Elvis is asleep. Teddy wakes Elvis and they argue about rich kid privilege. Elvis accuses Teddy of feeling superior to other men because he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a man without means. Teddy says he is superior to other men. The audience laughs. Ann comes in and out a few times drinking a beer, disheveled. The argument becomes heated. Elvis jumps up on the bed and strikes a karate pose in his silk robe. Roosevelt suggests they take this outside. They do.
SYNIVA: Femmes do also struggle with violence. Giving and receiving it. And we may not just be the means to a satisfying end.
SYNIVA: The characters shift through performed versions of history, celebrity, fantasy and other more internal experiences of who they are and who they might become. RoosevElvis are now Thelma and Louise in the convertible at the point of no return. There are a billion armed policeman behind them. They kiss, they hold hands, they wax poetic. This is a film. This is not happening on stage. They drive to their deaths into the heart of the Grand Canyon. The original version of Thelma and Louise has played throughout the performance on the TV set in Ann’s apartment and the TV set in the motel room. Things are always projected on screens. Sometimes we see the Badlands, sometimes the meat packing plant. There has also been footage of Mount Rushmore. Throughout the performance footage has played on a small TV screen, a set that looks more like a monitor you’d view security footage on off to the side of the stage, lower than waist height. This footage is of two waitresses in the back of a restaurant prepping food, talking, working standing. There is no soundtrack. There is a moment onstage at Ann’s kitchen table when RoosevElvis appears wearing pink waitress uniforms with white aprons but it seems dreamlike to me now, I’m not sure it happened.
WILL: It was like stepping with my own feet back into my own head. Sometimes I feel like my life is a TV show, too. I’m there but I’m also looking at myself. Also, I’m someone else.
RoosevElvis continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 8) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 9) at 8 pm. The TEAM will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 9 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.