The program notes say this is “a conversation” that contrasts “two archetypes of American masculinity.” I read that only afterwards. What I thought while enjoying the performance was that it was about imagination, identity, and icons.
This is a rollicking show, but it isn’t zany. In the end, it’s poignant. We really feel for Ann, who has a boring job in a meatpacking plant, making chopped meat all day, and although she has acknowledged her sexual identity, she has no partner. (The chopped meat is an apt metaphor for this chopped meat of a production, by the way, although I guess the TEAM ensemble wanted the meat to resonate with the masculinity theme.) What should Ann do? She is seemingly trapped in Rapid City, but only because of her fears. She has never been on a plane, and doesn’t want to fly. (Fear of Flying, anyone?) But at least by the end she is headed to Graceland — in her car.
Brenda is better off. She has her own issues, but still seems somehow more stable and better equipped to handle life than Ann is. Either I missed it or we are not told where Brenda lives or what she does, but she is a plane ride away from South Dakota and has an ex-husband.
While spending that single, not-to-be-repeated weekend together, the two visit Mount Rushmore, with Teddy up there, chiseled into the rock face. What a travesty! But it’s not dwelled upon. There are more important things to talk about. And talk these two do. Teddy has a wonderful patrician accent and is annoyingly overconfident. Elvis is boyish, aw-shucks-ish, a little shy, not particularly sexy, but he knows how to boast. While they reminisce about their lives, they play a game of one-upmanship. sparring with words, the facts of their lives. Yes, it’s a peeing contest, in the male-world vernacular. But it’s delightful, although sometimes confusing. One reviewer wondered if Ann had a split personality, since she goes back and forth between herself and Elvis, just as the Teddy character morphs into Brenda and back again. Fuggetabout it! Split personalities is not what this play is about!
At least at the Oberon, the production does have its amateur elements — the video monitors are small and poorly placed — but it seems intentional, and only adds to the charm of RoosevElvis, which, days later, I am still thinking about it. That’s the true test of anything, isn’t it?