By Eva MeiLing Pollitt; Co-Directed by Akia Squitieri and Anna Hogan
Produced by Rising Sun Productions
Part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.3.18
The Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street
by Ed Malin on 7.15.18
Ayesha Saleh, Raiane Cantisano, William Serri, Michael Pichardo, Meara Daniel Hagage,
and Danielle Bee Smotrich in Éléphant. Photo by N-K Photography.
BOTTOM LINE: A young woman's fantastic coming-of-age story set in a Parisian brothel in 1894.
As part of this year’s Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, Rising Sun Productions presents Eva MeiLing Pollitt’s Éléphant, a delightful coming-of-age story about an innocent young girl being raised in a brothel in fin de siècle Paris. The play jumps back and forth in time, mixes in several hazy dream sequences, and peppers it all with French phrases (hats off to dialect coach Monica Blaze Leavitt), which goes nicely with the “language of love” theme.
It's Paris, 1894—Clérèse (Raiane Cantisano) has always been sheltered from the goings-on in her home. So when she begins to vomit every morning, her mother Magdith (Ita Korenzecher) is confused—a virgin cannot be pregnant. But of course, Magdith didn’t know about the sixteen-year-old young man, a.k.a. “Jeunhomme” (William Serri), who arrived a few weeks earlier with his old, blind, and ebullient client (Eric Parness). While the old man enjoyed his amours, Clérèse flirted with the Jeunhomme, who told Clérèse of his travels to India. After drawing Clérèse a picture of a fascinating new animal—an elephant—he and Clérèse made plans to meet privately, where they pledged their love (and more).
As Clérèse becomes visibly pregnant and Magdith is too ill to work, the Madame (Laura Lamberti) threatens to throw them out of the house. Clérèse has dreams of a young Indian girl named Aaral (Ayesha Saleh) who lives in a place of sweet fountains, bright colors, and elephants. The ensemble physically creates both the locale and the undulating shapes of the animals.
Reality for Clérèse and Magdith is a harsher place. Since Clérèse does not know the name of her Jeunhomme and cannot locate him, the other prostitutes and their patrons (Maera Daniel Hagage, Maggie Kissinger, Michael Pichardo, and Danielle Bee Smotrich) accuse her of being raped by her father (Eric Parness). The modestly dressed Clérèse holds her own against the gaggle of satiny prostitutes, who sport rouge on their cheeks or else bruises from disrespectful clients. Many heartbreaking Freudian moments ensue. Months later, when the old man and the Jeunhomme return, the dynamics between all of them have changed.
Raiane Cantisano shines as the innocent, indestructible Clérèse. Men have written quite a lot of plays about prostitution, so the female-driven ensemble’s work is quite refreshing—both emotionally accessible and bittersweet. Éléphant shows it is possible to be thirteen and female and bold and pregnant and happy and still have faith. Co-Directors Akia Squitieri and Anna Hogan expertly juggle a large, busy ensemble. Between the flashy costumes of the Parisian prostitutes (designed by Allison Crutchfield) and the colorful bursts of India, this play offers a glimpse into the true power of a young person’s imagination.
(Éléphant plays at The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, 107 Suffolk Street, through August 3, 2018. The running time is 90 minutes, with no intermission. Performances are 7/11 at 5:45, 7/14 at 7, 7/16 at 9, 7/19 at 7:45, 7/31 at 7:30 and 8/3 at 9:30. Tickets are $25 and are available at planetconnections.org.)
Éléphant is by Eva MeiLing Pollitt. Co-Directed by Akia Squitieri and Anna Hogan. Costume Design by Alison Crutchfield. Assistant Costume Designer is Frank New. Lighting Design by Jenn Burkhardt. Sound Design by Jorge Olivio. Tech Advisor/Set Carpenter is Lory Henning. Dialect and Fight Direction by Monica Blaze Leavitt. Fight Captain is Danielle Bee Smotrich. Stage Manager is Kristen Delahanty. Assistant Stage Managers are Carolyn Becker, Susan Cavalcanti and Jessica Kriesler. Press Representative is Andrea Alton.
The cast is Raiane Cantisano, Maera Daniel Hagage. Maggie Kissinger, Ita Korenzecher, Laura Lamberti, Eric Parness, Michael Pichardo, Ayesha Saleh, William Serri, Danielle Bee Smotrich.