What do you get when you put two female actors on stage and have them play Teddy Roosevelt and Elvis Presley?
The answer is “RoosevElvis,” a surreal, humorous, and thoughtful play that touches on themes of gender identity, power, and masculinity.
Starting Oct. 11 at the Bushwick Starr, the show by the New York company The Team brings the two iconic American figures together at last.
The original production was born out of actresses Kristen Sieh’s and Libby King’s obsessions with the big game hunter and the jailhouse rocker who loved him.
“In The Team’s work, we love taking elements from history or mythology and placing them alongside contemporary stories,” director Rachel Chavkin said.
“RoosevElvis” tells the story of Ann, a lonely meat-processing plant worker in modern-day Rapid City, So. Dakota who, after a series of unsuccessful dates with women she meets on the internet, embarks on that cliché of self-discovery, a road trip. But what follows this is anything but typical. Ann follows the pop culture traces of her hero Elvis across the Great Plains to Graceland, where the spirits of the Pelvis and his personal hero, Theodore Roosevelt, haunt her.
In bringing the icons to life, Chavkin was at first tempted by the obvious visual humor of having the actresses perform in fat suits, but she dropped the idea as the piece developed and King, who fittingly portrays the King, was more inspired by impersonators of Elvis than the man himself. Sieh, meanwhile, wanted to embody the indomitable spirit of a younger — and slimmer — Roosevelt. The pair makes for a study in contrasts.
“Teddy is this towering figure of moral objectivity, while Elvis is this much more slippery creature,” Chavkin said. “There’s something deeply androgynous about Elvis.”
Elvis is known as much for his iconic moves as his ground-breaking music, and the black-box production will include dances inspired by the entertainer jarringly coupled with ballet. To realize the road trip, a projected video will show the pilgrimage from South Dakota to Graceland, and rowing machines will fill in for the car.
The play is a poetic, surreal production that Chavkin hopes entertains and challenges people’s notions of gender.
“Upsetting common assumptions about binary ideas of gender is definitely a big theme for us,” the director said. “Throughout the piece you see the actresses transform in a whole bunch of ways. Some are obvious, in terms of drag, and some are much subtler.”
“RoosevElvis” at the Bushwick Starr (207 Starr St. between Wyckoff and Irving avenues in Bushwick, www.thebushwickstarr.org), Oct. 11-Nov 3, $25 ($20 previews).