Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Women's Theatre Project: Speaking Elephant (2 reviews)

Women's Theater Project opened Terry Lawrence's Speaking Elephant on August 6th, 2009.
Based on the true story of Wanda and Winky, two aging Asian elephants living in the Detroit Zoo are placed in the middle of a controversy when the decision is made to relocate them to a place more conducive to their need - a sanctuary in California. The elephants' attendant is torn. How do you send someone you love away, even when it's for their own good? And how do you make them understand that when you don't speak elephant? While the humans examine the elephants' future, their physical and psychological conditions are explored with humor, wit and poignancy, reflecting the problems society brings when aging forces us to move out of our homes into a different environment.
Genie Croft directed a cast that includes Angie Radosh, Sally Bondi, and Pilar Uribe.

Christin Dolen reviewed for the Miami Herald:
Now getting its world premiere at the Women's Theatre Project in Fort Lauderdale, the South Florida-based playwright's script has inspired one of the company's best productions, from the simple and subtle work of director Genie Croft to the effective, engrossing performances by three of the region's best actors.
Of the many ways to come at the story, Lawrence chose to imagine the elephants' histories, thoughts and relationships. That proves an inspired choice, particularly with Sally Bondi as the optimistically curious Wanda and Angie Radosh playing a sometimes-acerbic Winky (if tart-tongued Joanne from Company were an elephant, she'd be Winky).
As the elephants' solicitous attendant, a passionate Pilar Uribe plays a tender-hearted geek who finds her challenging dealings with ``the girls'' nonetheless easier than building a relationship with the male of her own species.

Try as she might, she cannot understand the elephants' low rumblings. But thanks to Lawrence's imaginative empathy, everyone else who listens is given the gift of Speaking Elephant.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for the Sun-Sentinel:
There is no way that Speaking Elephant should work. The premise begs ridicule: Aging elephants Winky and Wanda talk to each other while an ecstatic zookeeper they cannot understand yammers to them about her love life.

So it's a minor miracle that the Women Theatre Project's world premiere by local writer Terry Lawrence emerges as a moving, thought-provoking examination of serious themes peppered with humor. The premise threatens every moment to tilt the production over the edge into ludicrous silliness, yet Lawrence's pungent language, Genie Croft's direction and affecting performances by Angie Radosh and Sally Bondi keep it grounded and credible.
...Lawrence has spun out her metaphor into a kaleidoscope of such disparate themes as fear of the unknown, death, animal rights and forcing a loved one into a care-taking environment for their own good.
The crucial element is that the actresses, Croft and Lawrence fearlessly invest themselves. No one steps out of character and winks at the audience. So when Bondi's Wanda whimpers, we cringe with her; when Radosh's Winky bares her secret, we are transfixed at the confessional -- even though the actresses are wrapped in furry gray suits and wave one arm like a trunk.

A lot of people snickered when they first heard Lawrence's premise, including a few critics. We owe her an apology.
The Women's Theater Project presents Speaking Elephant at Sixth Star Studios through August 30.

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