There is a kind of achievable magic in theatre that only the most committed audiences will appreciate. It consists of a performer inviting us into a world that is not spectacular in the traditional sense, but intimate, vivid, and exciting. In the first floor black box at La MaMa, Gardiner Comfort is inviting audiences into such a world in his solo piece The Elephant in Every Room I Enter.
In Elephant, Comfort tells us the story of a seven-day conference with the Tourette Association of America. Through this story, he tells us (as only an expert performer can) many others: how his syndrome shaped not only his sense of self but his relationships, his struggle as an actor living in New York, and, most notably, his struggle living in a world that could never truly understand him. He is a generous solo performer, deeply affected by the stories of those he meets in his week away from New York. The result is a technicolor vision accompanied by the snorts, shouts, twitches, as well as the passion and brilliance of his young friends at the conference. Combined with gorgeous movement evocative of the syndrome itself, the play feels like a deep sea dive through Comfort’s mind.
Further compliments to director Kel Haney for filling the stage with a whimsical vision that kept the solo performer in the spotlight, but never lonely. Projection designers Lianne Arnold and Caite Hevner Kemp also gave an outstanding offstage performance as the minds behind the magic happening on all four walls of the black box.
By turns humorous and heartbreaking, Gardiner Comfort’s The Elephant in Every Room I Enter is not about a man making sense of Tourette’s. Rather, it is the act of a man offering you the story of his life and challenging you to make sense of it. To quote Comfort, “it’s fate, and it’s always waiting for me.” In these cases, it’s often a better plan of action to dance boldly into the chaos of it all. That’s what Comfort knows for a fact, and is willing to teach us if we are willing to learn.