Entertainment » Theatre

The Elephant in Every Room I Enter

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Oct 19, 2015
The Elephant in Every Room I Enter

We all bring maladies and gifts with us into our lives. We are full of tics and nods, and habits; these are carted with us into every room and every relationship we enter. Some of these are more marked than others.

In "The Elephant in Every Room I Enter," Gardiner Comfort is a handsome, young man who has always carried Tourette Syndrome with him, yes, into every room he enters. He was diagnosed officially when he was seven, but his one-man show, currently playing in the intimate First Floor theater at LaMama, takes us on a ride from the time he was a toddler suffering from extreme night terrors to his ascent into manhood.

The theater has been stripped bare for this show, brick walls painted black are occasionally illuminated by video and projections that attempt to add to the angst felt by Gardiner in social situations and when juggling life's many vicissitudes.

Comfort was educated as an actor and has his choreographer mother's (the marvelous Jane Comfort) control of movement and articulation. He does not hide his tics from us, which include an aggressive throat clearing and a hacking cough. The play is part a retelling of a four-day Tourette conference in Washington, DC, and flashbacks to Comfort's childhood.

We see Comfort on the subway where kind strangers often offer him throat lozenges to sooth his hack. Or envision him as a cater waiter, or with his wife Colleen as he twitches and tics in bed. By far the bulk of the show is given over to the conference where Comfort is a speaker and activist charged with visiting Congress to lobby on behalf of funding for the syndrome.

Here at the conference we meet panoply of characters -- kids, parents, teachers -- and they are all given deft treatment by Comfort who is an astute mimic. One of the tics associated with Tourette is echolalia, an inability to stop repeating sounds. So one might squawk like a parrot at intervals or holler out a phrase just said by a neighbor. In Comfort's case it allows him to make manifest the world of youngsters growing up and finding themselves while their bodies and minds seem to take a path of their own.

We learn that Tourette is a neurological disease, about which not much is known other than the fact that many people outgrow it by their early 20's. Comfort did not, but he seems to have come to terms with it. He describes the tics as "itches that one can not stop scratching." Ah yes, we have all experienced those. It puts in perspective the endless advice given to Comfort and his cohorts, "Just stop doing it" and how frustrating those words must be.

When Comfort was small his mother and he devised a series of wild movements, called the Tourette Dance. Comfort gives us full view of that uncensored series of leaps, barks, twists and turns. His one-man show is much the same.

There are moments of great beauty and humanity. Clumsy times when perhaps a better interstitial could be imagined and of course as in any life, the quiet waiting for something else to happen. There are over a dozen collaborators listed in the program, including Kel Haney the director, who has a good list of projects to her credit and certainly made this evening move with an alacrity often missed in one-person pieces. Others are Caite Hevner Kemp and Lianne Arnold, who did the set, and projection design, and Dan Safer the choreographer. Both added to the energy and clarity of the show.

All the elements knit together to create a piece that illuminates one of the most visible things that a person carries with him into his life, but it further made this reviewer ponder all the unseen tics and experiences that follow each and every one of us into every cranny we enter.

"The Elephant In Every Room I Enter" runs through Oct. 31 at First Floor Theater LaMaMa Etc, 74A East 4th St. in New York. For tickets or information, call 646-430-5374 or visit LAMAMA.org

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