Friday, March 9, 2018


Unemployed Elephants by Wendy Graf 

This poster was irresistible! 

I cannot remember ever leaving the production of any play, in the literally hundreds of plays that I’ve reviewed, feeling angry.  Tonight is a night to remember and then forget.  The tiny Victory Theatre in Burbank has spared no expense to mount the World Premiere of Wendy Graf’s play, Unemployed Elephants. It’s a two hander that I’ll get to in a minute, but I must mention the pristine setting, a beauty of a set by Evan Bartoletti supplemented nicely by Carol Doehring’s lights and nice projections by Nick Santiago. 

Perhaps the most vital thing when we attend the theatre is to abandon the reality outside and come to the reality of what’s on the stage.  As the house lights dimmed two old biddies and I use the term specifically because their behavior was not only extremely rude, but through out the entire presentation they schmoozed, chatted and compared notes, using the white pages from their press kits illuminated by the stage lighting to bone up on one bit of information or another.  I was told that the biddy with the dyed brown hair was a woman named Pat Taylor who writes for the local weekly, The Tolucan.  I did not find out the other biddy’s name, but as they whispered during the scene changes and sometimes in the middle of a scene, inches from Marshall McCabe (Alex) as he brought one speech down toward the edge of the stage, the biddy on the right had the gall to lean in with her program to check some obscure information that most experienced reviewers might have checked before hand.

The nerve of folks who pass themselves off as theatre critics to so blatantly disturb the play is inexcusable.  It’s rude. If I knew the name of the blonder big hair biddy, I’d publish her name, too.  A fellow critic whose writing I admire said that I should have just told these old biddies to shut up.  I considered it, but as they were literally three feet from the stage in this intimate little space, and I directly behind them, five feet away from the action,  I silently fumed and made rude comments in my notes. I hope that the collaboration that Ms Taylor and her pal come up with become an interesting take on Wendy Graf’s World Premiere. Ms Graf and her collaborators deserve more respect than these women gave them. 

In press notes and in the text of the play, the plight of the elephants of Myanmar is spelled out sadly with information that because of the depletion of lumber and other political issues in the country, the elephants are falling into despair for lack of work. They are intelligent and productive critters who thrive when kept busy.

Episodic and fruitful, Graf’s long one act provides fodder for a marginal love story that Jane (Brea Bee) declares more than one time is ‘not real.’  Clever dialogue and the inevitable connection between two attractive twenty somethings, Alex and Jane, both lying through their teeth may or may not fall in love.

The meeting of the lovebirds in a distant airport is rocky.  Conflict is the fruit of drama and though it’s mostly banter, McCabe, a ringer for Harry Anderson of Night Court, persists to win favor and companionship as the coincidence of their bumping into one another from one scene to another progresses. 

To this progress, I must protest.  The play is written in twelve disparate scenes that call for the actors to provide scene changes for themselves. This made me wish that director Maria Gobetti, might have employed at least one silent koken, whom the actors may or may not acknowledge, who would facilitate the mostly simple scene changes. This would allow the actors to stay in character shifting from one situation to the next. Students of Kabuki Theatre will recall Kuroko who appear ‘invisibly’ on stage to change scenery or even provide props for the actors.  The audience cooperates by dismissing these black clad stage hands as an "invisible" part of the presentation. I felt sorry for the actors as they diligently moved scenery and props, staying in character I suppose, but it’s hard to keep the illusion going with the donkey work of changing the scenery.  To me, a koken (or two?) in the guise of a servant who worked at the various locations, even subtly changing costumes from scene to scene might have kept the flow of the play moving more smoothly. 

Unemployed Elephants is very cinematic in nature and though settings are nicely portrayed by Santiago’s projections, seeing this story as a Movie of the Week with actual locations might be very interesting. 

Aside from being distracted by the old biddies, this show deserves an audience who might behave and enjoy the clever dialogue with laughter in all the right places.  It gets a little heavy toward the end with Alex disclosing secrets that were a bit difficult to follow.  Ms Brea’s voice was not easy to take from time to time, but I think that young women in their twenties may be falling in to some kind of vocal thing, infected by one another, like Valley Talk (but this is NOT Valley Talk) that makes some of her dialogue difficult to handle. Acting chops are solid and Ms Gobetti’s direction is letter perfect (except for my koken idea..).

Brea Bee and Marshall McCabe
Photo by Tim Sullens

A World Premiere
by Wendy Graf
Directed by Maria Gobetti
The Little Victory Theatre
3324 W Victory Blvd
Burbank, CA 91505
 March 9 – April 15
Fridays at 8 p.m.: March  9 (Opening Night), 16, 23, 30; April 6, 13
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 3 (preview), 10, 17, 24, 31; April 7, 14
Sundays at 4 p.m.: March 11, 18, 25; April 1, 8, 15 
Tickets and Information:

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