Out There, the Walker Art Center's annual experimental theater festival, opened Thursday night with an imaginary road trip taken by the 26th President of the United States and the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
RoosevElvis, fresh from a London run, is a clever, engaging, and ultimately moving piece from the New York-based company, the TEAM, with a pair of dynamic performances at its core.
The plot tends to twist back on itself, but centers on Ann, a shy meat-processing plant worker in Rapid City. At 35, Ann doesn't have much to show for her life, which consists mostly of going to work, coming home from work, and the occasional trip to Mt. Rushmore to get high.
In an effort to connect, Ann sets up a weekend date with Brenda, a taxidermist from North Dakota, via an online service. Brenda is outgoing, loves adventure, and is completely wrong for Ann. After the disastrous weekend, Brenda tells Ann that she should do something — anything — to get out of her own skin.
She finally does, via an impulsive trip to Graceland. She doesn't go alone. Ann is joined by a figment of her imagination: her idol Elvis. Elvis, in turn, has his own "imaginary" traveling companion, Roosevelt. At one level, we a gay woman pursuing a very "manly" occupation. At the second, we have two Americans who define manly men — both list "meat" as one of their favorite things — against the backdrop of the heartland.
All of this could easily collapse under the weight of its own conceits, but the company stays focused on the characters and leaves the deeper thinking about the implications to us. It helps that performers Libby King (as Ann/Elvis) and Kristen Sieh (Brenda/Roosevelt) make us feel for each of the characters they inhabit.
There is an engaging lightness to the Elvis/Roosevelt scenes. They exchange boasts of manhood in many ways. Elvis karate chops a pile of pizza boxes. Teddy punches out a herd of buffalo. And while they are exaggerated, the characters are not parodies. Over a campfire, the two dig into the fears that hide just beneath the surface, and Elvis even offers Teddy some comfort by instructing him on how to create an imaginary companion of his own. (Scottish naturalist John Muir, if you are curious.)
Like any road trip, RoosevElvis meanders at times, but the various elements (the onstage actors at times interact or are even replaced by video versions of themselves) combine into a lively whole that sets the festival off on the right direction.
IF YOU GO:
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
The Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-375-7600 or visit online.