Play DC: The Elephant Room @ Arena Stage
cale | Jan 30, 2012 | 10:00AM |

Short Review

This show is amazing and hilarious, it’s best to just trust me and blindly dive into it. Here are the croosh deets:

Elephant Room
by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle / directed by Paul Lazar
JAN 20 – FEB 26, 2012
in the Kogod Cradle @ Arena Stage
1101 Sixth Street, SW
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Slightly Longer Review

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Friday 02/24
Paul Zerdin WINNER of Americas Got Talent Live at Arlington Drafthouse @ Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse
$30 / $30
“Technically immaculate, it’s what he does with his slick talent that really sets him apart. His relationship with the characters has all the dramatic tension of a real life double act” – The Guardian Paul Zerdin has helped make ventriloquism cool again. From the Royal Variety Performance to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to India’s comedy circuit, Montreal’s Just For Laughs and UK tours with his Sponge Fest show and forthcoming Puppet Master tour. Paul’s fresh twist on this traditional comedy art has impressed everyone from Her Majesty the Queen onwards. “It is Zerdin’s sharp script that is the heartbeat of the show” – The Times Crucially, Paul Zerdin appeals to both comedy club and mainstream audiences in equal measure. The UK’s number one ventriloquist’s career has included appearances on everything from the Royal Variety Performance, Paramount and Comedy Central’s, The World Stands Up to ITV Daybreak, BBC TV’s The One Show, Sky News and Jason Manford’s Comedy Rocks. **** "Pure audience gratifying magic” – Time Out With Paul’s winning combination of technical skill, hilarious ventriloquism, charm and impeccable comic timing, Paul Zerdin’s live shows see him bring to life several very different characters amongst whom are the cheeky pre-adolescent Sam, belligerent OAP Albert and precocious infant Baby and in 2012 on his Puppet Master live tour, Paul will be introducing a new character! “I see myself as a one man Muppet sitcom, reining the characters in” commented Zerdin. “The old man has a thing for the ladies and so does Sam who is about to become a teen and knows naughty words. Between the two of them they lead the baby astray and the baby, of course, wants to know everything. I think it is important to have characters that people can relate to rather than, say, talking sheep which are less believable”. Simply put, Zerdin is the man who can make ventriloquism look cool” – The Stage Zerdin, who got the ‘biggest laugh of the night’ at the Royal Variety Performance in 2009, according to audience members, also went on to get 5 star reviews at that year’s Edinburgh Festival. Paul returned to Edinburgh to sold-out houses in 2010 and made his debut at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival that year before embarking on a major UK tour with Sponge Fest in 2010/2011. That Paul Zerdin should make his career in show business is not entirely unexpected “my mother was a BBC Radio 2 presenter and my father worked for the BBC World Service, so my sister and I spent a lot of time in the studios”, he reveals. When Paul was 10, a family friend made him a puppet theatre which he used to put on shows. As he is the first to admit, his hobby quickly grew into an obsession. “The real turning point was when I was given a book on ventriloquism by the legendary Ray Alan. By the time I hit my teens I was spending half an hour a day in front of the mirror practising talking without moving my lips.” Having failed his GCSE’s in spectacular style, Zerdin got a job in a magic shop, developing his magic skills along the way. Simultaneously, he was also developing a sideline as a children’s entertainer. “Compared to my friends and their measly paper rounds, I was raking it in!” he laughs. Zerdin made his TV debut as a magician on the BBC’s Tricky Business and shortly afterwards, at the age of just 20, landed a two year contract presenting the Disney produced kids’ programme Rise and Shine for GMTV. In 1996, Paul was the first outright winner – by over 100,000 votes of LWT’s The Big Big Talent Show, hosted by Jonathan Ross. The experience not only raised his profile, but introduced him to Nigel Lythgoe, the man who would go on to create reality shows such as Popstars and American Idol. Lythgoe took the 22 year old Paul under his wing, paving the way for appearances on scores of shows, Tonight at the London Palladium, and Generation Game among them. It was Nigel who gave Paul his first brush with Royalty when he secured him a spot on the Prince’s Trust Gala Show in 1997. “That was a totally surreal experience”, he laughs. “I was sharing a dressing room with Julian Clary, Alan Davies and Frank Bruno with The Spice Girls next door”. By the late nineties it was obvious that traditional variety shows were losing their appeal and it was then that Zerdin decided to introduce stand-up into his routine, a decision that has paid off handsomely. From Ray Alan through to Keith Harris, ventriloquists have been a staple of UK entertainment for years, but it has taken Paul Zerdin to bring his mix of stand-up and ventriloquism to the forefront of contemporary entertainment to truly put ventriloquism on the comedy map.
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Going into the Elephant Room at Arena Stage for their final dress rehearsal the other night, I was expecting something “weird” but not really weird.  Something along the lines of a musical about Brooklyn hipsters, or a troupe that performs 30 mini plays in 60 minutes.  Advertised as some sort of magical comedy theater hybrid with a goofy looking trio mugging for the camera it had high potential to be something I could pretentiously dismiss, while still being happy the art appreciation zeitgeist had improved for the better overall in the internet leveled playing field of taste we live in.  This would be no Reggie Watts, but simply mildly amusing.  And then I was presented with one of the greatest chunks of live entertainment I’ve ever seen.

You get to spend an hour and change on a figuratively and literally magical psychedelic journey through the psyches of the three characters. It’s a stream of consciousness one act with Axel F dance numbers, a little Curb Your Enthusiasm and Mr. Show, a lot of Tim & Eric, actual honest to god impressive illusions, not so impressive ones, an expertly placed Ray Lynch track, a phone call from the Dali Lama, non-awkward audience participation, craptastic special effects, and non stop manic retarded hilarity.

There is no plot, it’s just this giant meta explosion of strangeness. I overheard someone say “I think I got high just watching that” as they left the theater. But it’s never odd just to be odd, everything has weight to it. There is a strange undercurrent of sadness and despair that runs throughout as well. It sort feels like a Christopher Guest project. You start to feel that the three characters have complex backgrounds only hinted at here; Dennis Diamond, a slick Vegas conjurer with a healthy serving of zen, Daryl Hannah, the recovering alcoholic trailer trash wizard, and Louie Magic, the kids birthday party magician / hair metal fan. It’s as if you’re just catching the middle hour of a 12 part BBC mini series when they still had that off-putting soft focus. Or at least think you are whilst in mid-trip when you’re really just looking at the couch.

I want to give as little away as possible, and I’ve already said too much, but there is a bit where all three magicians are performing their own magic trick at the same time, it’s like the ultimate misdirect, yet none are vying for your attention. They’re just casually making balloons animals or sawing a woman in half while addressing the audience as if nothing else if going on around them. It’s so diametrically opposed to what you’re used to that your brain starts to short circuit, the effect is both brilliant and ridiculously funny.

Yet the surprising thing is how accessible the performance is. If I took my mom to it, it probably wouldn’t be her favorite thing ever, but she’d still really like it. It’s a dream come true for annoying hipster snobs like myself, but The Elephant Room has universal appeal to anyone even remotely entertained by this sort of thing. The price is a bit steep, but it’s worth every penny and then some, so don’t sleep on it.
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