East Village Play Shows How Liberals Can 'Come Out' to Conservative Parents
EAST VILLAGE — How do you break the news to your conservative father of your defection to the Democrats?
If you're standup comedian David Lee Nelson, you write a play about it.
Less than four weeks before the first performance of "The Elephant in my Closet," a coming-of-age political play based on Nelson's life, hit the stage, his dad had yet to learn of his son's liberal leanings.
"I remember very distinctly that I was on East 86th Street and Third Avenue," said Nelson, of the bumbling phone call he finally made, in March of this year.
"I thought 'That’s funny. I'm telling my dad I am a Democrat on the Upper East Side. I should be in the Village or something.'"
"The Elephant in My Closet," a one-man play with Nelson performing the dialogue for both himself and his father, opens this Sunday night for a six-performance run at the Kraine Theater on East 4th Street.
"This is a very liberal town, but a lot of us come from places that are not so liberal," said Adam Knight, 33, the play's director and co-creator. "When we go home to have holidays with our families, we have to go into the closet with our beliefs."
Nelson agreed that the story is common among many of the country's young people, especially city-dwellers.
"To tell you the truth, there are a lot of people who have the same story," said Nelson, who spent six years in the political closet before that phone coversation. "I am just more vocal about it."
"The Elephant in My Closet" had been in the works for almost a year before it premiered at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in May of this year.
While it follows the timeline of Nelson's life growing up in a Republican family, it also details the party's history and what he believes is a split from the GOP's roots.
"It is so polarized. But it has been polarized by our family, with people we have breakfast, Thanksgiving with. They aren't strangers," said Nelson, who lives in Williamsburg.
"How do we love each other, live together as family and friends, when we are on the opposite sites of these ideology struggles?"
For Knight, this story also confronts the weight political beliefs have in how Americans see themselves.
"It addresses the very complicating things that make up someone's political identity," he said.
This is the third play created and staged by Nelson and Knight, who are childhood friends originally from Greenville, South Carolina.
The first, in 2008, "Silence of Lucky," is about Nelson's love of things that fail. For example, he is a fan of the struggling Chicago Cubs, who haven't won a the World Series in more than a century.
Another play, "Status Update," makes light of changing one's Facebook relationship status after a failed union.
As for the outcome of Nelson's conversation with his father, the performance will reveal all.
"There was an awkward silence, there was a pause, and then what he said is in the play,” said Nelson.
His dad has now seen the show several times, and the father-son relationship remains strong.
"I'm happy to see that blood is thicker than politics," said Nelson, before backtracking on his words.
"No, actually, it also depends on who wins the election, so check back with me in November."