As with fusion cuisine, not all attempts at artistic mashups work. The trend toward throwing a hodgepodge of ideas in the air to see what comes down doesn’t automatically end in brilliance.
But the TEAM’s “RoosevElvis” — one continuous mashup from its name to its themes to the mixed media used to tell the tale — is a highly original success.
The TEAM, a Brooklyn-based group exploring what it means to be an American, also folds clashing notions of masculinity and the poignancy of budding friendships into this live performance augmented by multiple video screens.
Ann (the slyly engaging Libby King) works as a meatpacker and fills her spare hours in Rapid City, S.D., with beer drinking and adopting the persona of Elvis alone in her apartment. When Brenda (probable reincarnated wood sprite Kristen Sieh, who also designed the costumes), a potential romantic partner she meets online who is interested in taxidermy and Teddy Roosevelt, comes to visit, they don’t exactly hit it off.
When the narrative spins into a road trip from the ersatz Wild West Badlands to the mecca-to-excess Graceland, nothing is predictable. At first the only thing the two seem to share is a love of firearms. But as they clown their way through Wall Drug and ride rowing machines in place of steeds and RV cabs, self-absorbed boaster Roosevelt and simple, straightforward Presley form an uneasy bond that grows with each intimate revelation.
As Teddy, Sieh is a bantam-rooster ballerina, bristling with braggadocio yet light on her feet as Tinkerbell. Her demonstrations of Roosevelt’s notorious ego bubble forth in a near-constant stream. She turns an innocent bird call into “look at me, look at me-me,” and a recollection of Teddy’s “hero,” naturalist John Muir, into a naked need for approval.
King imbues Elvis (or “El-veez” as Teddy mispronounces it) with a soulfully honest, poetic spirit that no amount of “Blue Hawaii” go-go girl shimmying on TV in the background can diminish. ‘Teddy, man, I didn’t come from money,” he drawls, attempting to point out the root of their conflicting outlooks. “That never goes away.”
Director Rachel Chavkin keeps a mercurial vibe going throughout this rolling celebration of historical and mythical notions of masculinity. Who could be further apart on the gamut of machismo than two of its most recognizable icons, Teddy the Rough Rider with his infamous Big Stick and the hip-thrusting King of Rock ‘n’ Roll?
“RoosevElvis” is “Out There” at its best — provocative, insightful, surprising and wholly entertaining.