Elvis Rocks the House at Little Lake Theatre
Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD
Little Lake Theatre turns Heartbreak Hotel with two one-act plays about Elvis. Playwright Ellen Byron authored both Graceland and Asleep on the Wind, but the directorial effort is divided. Joe Eberle directs Graceland, and Mary Meyer directs Asleep on the Wind.
In Graceland, two women arrive at the King’s pearly gates on June 4, 1982. It’s three days shy of Graceland’s opening, and the two vie to enter first. While their intent is identical, they visually contrast, establishing them as opponents. The plump, middle-aged Bev (Jennifer Phipps Kopach) assertively rolls in her ice chest, clutching a lawn chair and tent. The young, waif-like Rootie (Kodie Warnell) arrives with cat-like quietness with only a pillow and a crumpled paper bag.
Both Bev and Rootie are wives. At one point, Bev extends her left hand, gazing at her wedding ring. She sighs, “Most important man in my life…” Eberle directs Kopach with a perfectly timed pause before she completes her thought, “…Elvis.”
Warnell’s lulling Louisiana accent rivets and never wavers. Under Eberle’s direction, Warnell manifests a selfless and sympathetic vulnerability without being a victim, despite a life of hardship. The two most important men in her life, her eldest brother and her husband, share the name Beau, and that is where the similarity ends. Her husband, known as Wee Beau, proves wee in both mind and love.
We don’t meet either husband; we just see their problematic marriages. Elvis, another flawed man, ironically represents a perfect man to both women. While he never appears either, his music is integrally woven into each play. Byron’s carefully selected Elvis lyrics make him a third-voice and almost omniscient narrator.
Bev and Rootie’s encyclopedic Elvis knowledge shines a little less impressively in the Internet era. Now that information is instantly searchable; it’s harder to feel the wowing weight of yesteryear’s memorization.
The two ladies spit out dueling Elvis facts from birth to his first studio recording date. Eberle paves a humorous path of one-upmanship. Both try to prove their worthiness to cross the threshold first via ever more obscure Elvis facts.
Asleep on the Wind opens with Elvis’ song “If I Can Dream.” It’s maudlin and appropriate. The play chronologically takes place a decade before Graceland. It focuses on young Rootie (Lola Armfield) and her brother, Beau (Noah Welter).
Both wonder about a life beyond the bayou and “why, oh why, oh why can’t my dreams come true.” Welter exudes a protective love for his sister, “the flower of my bayou.” While Armfield is good for her young age, this duo’s acting cannot compete with Graceland.
Asleep on the Wind is poignant. The audience already knows Rootie and Beau’s story a decade on, which makes every interaction laden with meaning the characters lack in that moment. Meyer cultivates moments of playfulness between the siblings, but the audience’s knowledge forestalls levity.
Both plays are ultimately about the power of stories and storytelling. Storytelling is salvation, whether it’s life stories or Elvis’ lyrics.
When Bev and Rootie begin belting out bits of Elvis tunes and sharing their life stories, their adversarial underpinnings start to shift. The tough-shelled Bev softens. They discover a shared military family history, and Rootie exclaims, “We’re both related to the army!”
When we communicate face to face, the things we discover in common and how we are connected are more powerful and numerous than the things that divide us. It’s a worthy reminder as we look to unite an unnecessarily divided nation. Storytelling – we’re all related somehow.
Graceland and Asleep on the Wind run through November 20 at Little Lake Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets to the show, please visit https://www.littlelake.org/graceland