Picture Theodore Roosevelt and Elvis Presley in a motel room in Missouri. Roosevelt removes his cowboy hat and snaps down the sofa-bed with brisk proficiency. Elvis changes into a monogrammed gown and suggests ordering pizza. The 26th President of the United States and The King of Rock'n'Roll have just broken down during the strangest buddy road trip in non-history. Now imagine that ‘Thelma and Louise’ is playing on the motel telly.
Revived for the tenth anniversary of experimental Brooklyn ensemble The TEAM, ‘RoosevElvis’ is a conceptually bizarre, thematically far-reaching mash-up. It’s half hallucinatory road movie starring two contrasting icons of masculinity, half the coming of age story of a chronically ordinary and emotionally lost 30-something lesbian. Two brilliant comic performances, born from rigorous research and intense acts of gender-bending empathy, make this a surprisingly easy sell from the get-go.
Libby King plays both Elvis and Ann, who has a job in a meat factory, a penchant for y-fronts, and an unfulfilled dream of visiting Graceland. Each evening she returns to her South Dakota apartment, stuffs a bag of beers in the fridge, and chats with the sofa-surfing spirit of Elvis. Kristen Sieh plays both Roosevelt and Ann’s internet date, Brenda. A taut-limbed taxidermist, Brenda is as self-assured as Ann is doubting.
It’s never going to work, and a ‘romantic’ trip in Ann’s RV soon stalls. Instead, unlikely bro-love blossoms between the two famous spirits hitching a ride in the women’s personalities. King’s Elvis is lonesome, languorous and slightly lumpen. Sieh’s buckskinned Roosevelt is a hilariously shrill send-up of a man with such moral drive and terrifying personal energy that he once gave a 90-minute speech with a fresh bullet in his chest.
In the show’s standout sequence, the pair trade ludicrous displays of machismo. Elvis karate chops five Hot Tasty Pizza boxes. Roosevelt dons boxing gloves, calls to a stagehand to cue up a big-screen replay of ‘Planet Earth’, and proceeds to punch the shit out of a herd of VCR bison.
‘RoosevElvis’ is about the performance of masculinity, the multiplicity of personality, the shakiness of gender, the false fixity of fame and the role of American mythology in the contemporary psyche. It’s probably about a bit too much, to be honest, especially when you factor in a fiddly video element. But when a company as talented as The TEAM serve an all-you-can-eat-feast, it’s worth adjusting your waistband.