Asses & Elephants Theatre Review - A Triumphant Success

With the time remaining until the 2008 Presidential Elections attenuating to mere weeks, there could have been no better time for the premiere of Asses and Elephants.  Tucked away in The Other Space, a modest yet appealing extension of The Santa Monica Playhouse, this eighty-minute play was an unexpected treat and an anomaly in its marriage of politics and stage.

There is almost no more fastidious a venture into theatre than the indulgence into politics; what other topic brings about more strong-rooted opinions than this?  And at a crossroad deemed frequently as “the most important election of our time”, it seems even more delicate a subject than ever.  Furthermore, the setting for Asses and Elephants is the 2004 G.W. vs. Kerry election- an election that drew further the distance between our real-life Asses and Elephants.  Nevertheless, the indisputably erudite and first-time playwright Suzanne Bressler writes a script that manages to pull all of the important issues of politics into a culmination of circumstance and endearing characters that leaves you anything but antipathetic toward those who don’t agree with you.  

From left to right: Sean Edwards as Justin, Brian Kelly as Jake, Kristen Pate as Ruby and Amber McConnell as Cassi

So it’s 2004 and Jake Klein ( Brian Kelly) has just voted.  He meets his friend Lyle ( Jason Mesches) for lunch before heading home to prepare for an election night get-together with a few friends.  At the restaurant, however, he runs into Ruby ( Kristen Pate), his long lost lust from high school and ends up inviting her to what she interprets as a large party.  Aggrandizing his original scheme, the party turns into an enormous get-together with hippies; Jake’s x-girlfriend, April ( Erin Henriques); Jake’s High School arch nemesis, Richar ( Andrew Wei Lin); Ruby’s over-protective brother, Eduardo ( Chris Veluz); and many other eclectic guests.  The night seems to be going well until Jake, a fervent Democrat with austere liberal opinions, learns that Ruby, the object of his affection, is none other than a conservative Republican.  In a scintillating Romeo and Juliet moment on the balcony, Jake declares “My life is my foe’s debt.  Is she a….capitalist?” (a paraphrase)  Jake ultimately confuses himself into telling her he is a Republican and the deception must continue until the inevitable truth finds its way back into our hero’s heart.

From left to right: Simon de Veer as Skyy, Amber McConnell as Casi and Sean Edwards as Justin

I suppose what was so endearing about this play is the barefaced manner in which it examines the sensitive and developing opinions of a really charming group of “twentysomethings”.  While many of the characters do in fact try to disabuse one another of their impassioned beliefs, they really are still searching for what, to them, is right and wrong.  Furthermore, setting the politics in the familiar arena of a college party makes this astute play a sort of political “Dazed and Confused”; it’s witty and charming but without the esoteric high brow you might expect.  It seems to me a great way to draw a younger crowd into the theatre without boring them of their interests.  

Continuing on that note, in what appears to be a well-constructed marketing plan, this production has taken its relevancy one step further by partnering with Rock the Vote in an effort to expand its already present pertinence to the upcoming election.  Audience members are presented with Rock the Vote pins and attendees have the opportunity to register to vote right outside the theatre.  An election night party at Stone Fire Pizza in Los Angeles is also free to ticket holders who present their stubs and “I Voted” stickers.  And as if that isn’t enough, the whole enthusiastic vibe is complimented with a keg of beer after the show and brownies that are passed out in the middle of the performance as if the audience members are fellow guests of the party.  The ever-percolating inspiration of it all was quite a rush.

Kristen Pate as Ruby and Brian Kelly as Jake in Asses and Elephants

Regarding performances, many actors stood out in the collage of characters that brushed the stage; a story like this certainly relies on the endearment of the wide variety of personas.  The dialogue is also somewhat garrulous and requires a certain level of intellect and understanding.  Fortunately a vast majority of the cast meets this demand.  Most notably, Brian Kelly fawns the audience as charming and idealistic Jake, who possesses a true passion for the future.  His clear understanding of the role and its place in the entirety of the script results in a virile, affluent performance that leaves for a highly sympathetic audience.  Jason Mesches, as Lyle, who at first comes off as the narrow-minded and underdeveloped sidekick looking only to get laid, morphs quite beautifully into an ultra-dynamic and compassionate friend by the end of the play.  This unexpected take on what could have been a boring character is quite remarkable.  Others like Chevonne Hughes, as Dani, and Erin Henriques, as April, add a stellar dimension to the arch of the piece.

While my only criticism would be the sometimes awkward set changes and use of space in a theatre that I am sure presents a hearty challenge, the production was put together with such integrity and clear enjoyment that the overall impact is fervently successful.  For a first time playwright, Suzanne Bressler delivers an anything but inchoate piece.  When asked which character most clearly represents her, she responded, “Oh, there’s a little bit of me in everyone.”  There must certainly be quite an array of depth in there, and I look forward to seeing more of it in her future projects.   

Asses and Elephants opened Saturday, October 4, 2008 and runs through a special Monday performance on November 3, 2008 (the day before elections) at:

The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse
1211 4th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm, Sundays @ 7pm

For reservations call: 323-960-7711
Online Ticketing:

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