Some people who have suffered trauma shut themselves away to deal with their pain. Melanie Greenberg chose to turn her experiences into a one-woman show featuring original lyrics and humorous storytelling. Her solo piece, The Elephant in the Room, covers her very personal journey in search of her “tribe.” Her twisted and often tortured path from severely depressed childhood to performance-oriented adulthood took her to a family of well-meaning Texan Christians, a sadistic psychiatric center, a rotation of therapists and medications, and a ceremony featuring Ayahuasca, a drink made from a psychoactive plant. Though her story contains some chilling chapters, she delivers it very matter-of-factly. Balanced with genuine warmth and uplifting song snippets, what could be deeply disquieting becomes quite entertaining.
Greenberg sings her well-crafted lyrics with precision. The music is based on the Broadway shows that helped preserve her sanity and sense of humor over the years. Knowledge of Chicago, Little Shop of Horrors, Grease and Little Mermaid would add to your appreciation of the work, but that is not essential for enjoying the tunes. The actress/singer is to be admired for how well she organizes her reflections on an injurious childhood, the many appalling attempts at treatment, and a psychedelic trip gone wrong. Though she returns to her memory of a captive elephant who was brought to a child’s birthday party as entertainment (the animal for whom the work is titled), she is really more like the proverbial fish out of water: perpetually treated as unsuited to traditional society.
Greenberg is joined onstage by her charming musical director and occasional contributor Bill Zeffiro, the winner of several cabaret awards. Her director Joanie Schultz is also a close friend and may have consequently used too gentle a hand. Greenberg’s stories are vivid and filled with distinct details, but many are told at the same energy level rather than given variation. Sadly, no explanation is provided for Greenberg’s fanciful satin dress with a huge black sequence snake wrapping itself around her body. The recorded performance was done with a single camera at an unusual angle and it could have used some more balanced sound mixing. Even so, it was obvious that the show has promise.
Melanie Greenberg is a gifted storyteller with a great deal to say. She is worthy of attention, with infectious vivacity and a genuine sense of compassion for her struggling younger self. Despite her casual manner, it seems likely that a certain amount of personal distancing is required to actually enjoy hearing the darker aspects of The Elephant in the Room. The piece debuted at United Solo Fest at Theatre Row and is now traveling to other intimate venues. The next performances are December 3, 10, and 17 at The Apple Tree Inn in the Berkshires, all the better to hunker down and continue the conversation with fellow audience members. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at https://www.sevenrooms.com/experiences/appletreeinn/the-elephant-in-the-room-7597649199. Runtime is approximately 80 minutes.