A man and a woman meet at the airport. She is on her honeymoon, solo, after being dumped just before her wedding. He says he is on assignment for Animal Planet, researching the unemployed logging elephants of Myanmar. Turns out they are sitting next to each other on the plane, and then staying at the same hotel. Seems pretty clear where things will go from here, although Unemployed Elephants, a world premiere comedy written by Wendy Graf currently playing at the Victory Theatre Center in Burbank, has a few surprises in store. This lighthearted romantic comedy about what it means to really know someone, the real meaning of the truth, and how being on vacation in a foreign country can get people out of their comfort zone is sunny and enjoyable, although not without clichés.
Early on, Jane (Brea Bee) and Alex (Marshall McCabe) make a deal to not learn each others’ names. At first, their interactions are clouded by annoyance, mostly on her part, as she resists the idea of companionship on what was supposed to be an “unplugged” independent trip. While Jane reveals the emotional reasons behind her trip fairly early on, Alex is far more inscrutable, and it’s unclear if his story about Animal Planet and the elephants is the truth or a cover. But they get along well enough to not care, each finding something they’re looking for in the other. In different ways, they’re each running from truths about their own lives that make them uncomfortable, and they find a welcome distraction in their flirty interactions.
Directed by Maria Gobetti, the action unfolds at a variety of locations, all of which are minimally depicted on the small stage—an airport lounge, a plane, a hotel pool, a car. The scene transitions are often a tad clunky, and perhaps the story would benefit from a need from less movement. The cheeky dialogue shines best when Bee and McCabe can settle into the banter of a scene, and momentum is lost when they have to reconfigure the stage to create the next location. Aside from the memorable story about the elephants that provides the play’s title, you could pretty easily sub any foreign country in for Myanmar, given how little it ultimately plays into the specifics of the story.
Despite his intentionally mysterious nature, Alex feels like a bit more of a well-rounded character than Jane, who is primarily defined by her breakup—details such as her job are mentioned only once, in passing, and dismissed as essentially a joke. But, the two have a charming rapport and sufficient chemistry, and the 90 minutes breezes by easily. With the exception of a few outlandish details, these characters are relatable, as is the feeling of uncharacteristic spontaneity that can sometimes result from traveling outside your comfort zone, both literally and metaphorically. If you’re looking for an amusing, easy-to-watch romantic comedy, Unemployed Elephants is time well spent.
Unemployed Elephants runs through April 15th at The Little Victory Theatre in Burbank. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm. The running time is 90 minutes, no intermission. Tickets start at $24 and can be purchased here.
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