Walker Art Center
photo by Sue Kessler
When developing Roosevelvis, the TEAM came upon the fact that Elvis had posted on his office wall Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena, a quote which places the credit for all good things not on those who criticize and nitpick, but on the man “who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.” Using that philosophy as a call to arms, Roosevelvis intertwines the story of two women: unadventurous Ann, who works at a meat-packing plant and idolizes Elvis, and her visitor, the well-traveled and spontaneous Brenda, a taxidermist and something of an authority on Roosevelt.
Under Rachel Chavkin’s direction, this is an energetic and surprisingly fast-paced piece for a narrative centered on a woman who feels unable to take action. The lives and philosophies of Roosevelt and Elvis provide fascinating contrast to the stories of Brenda and Ann, as performers Libby King and Kristen Sieh jump back and forth between portrayals of the historical icons and the women whose lives parallel theirs.
Throughout the show, video sequences are mixed with live scenes, for example, we see a recording of Brenda and Ann eating lunch at a diner even as they sit on stage eating lunch at a diner. Sometimes these mediated scenes bleed into footage from Thelma and Louise, highlighting the similarities between these stories but also driving home the grounded realness of Ann wandering around her house in a t-shirt and underwear, not actually starring in a romantic cross-country adventure.
As mediated mixes with real, so to does historical fact mix with fantasy, showing us the humanity behind these legendary figures. In one memorable sequence, in which Elvis and Roosevelt sit by a campfire roasting wieners, we’re reminded that our heroes have heroes too. Even Teddy Roosevelt, that most brash of manly men, worries that his hero John Muir wouldn’t approve of him.
Ultimately, Roosevelvis is a masterfully performed, playful hero’s journey turned buddy road trip through the traditions of American masculinity
Roosevelvis is part of the 2016 Out There Festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The Out There festival runs through January 30th.