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Elvis and Teddy Roosevelt Help Woman Discover Gender Identity in Play

By Meredith Hoffman | October 8, 2013 9:17am
 "RoosevElvis" debuts Tuesday at the Bushwick Starr.
"RoosevElvis" debuts Tuesday at the Bushwick Starr.
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Kevin Hourigan

BUSHWICK — A Midwestern meat processing worker on a quest for her gender identity gets some help from Elvis Presley and Theodore Roosevelt in a new play.

In "RoosevElvis," which is debuting at the Bushwick Starr, Presley and Roosevelt serve as "spiritual guides" for protagonist Ann, symbolizing different notions of American masculinity.

"Ann goes on this surreal road trip with the two of them through the Badlands to Graceland," the play's director Rachel Chavkin said. "Over the course of this journey, Ann, this incredibly lonely person awakening to her own sense of queerness, gets cared for and haunted by these two images."

On one end of the gender spectrum lies Roosevelt, a "patrician, imperialist, outdoorsy" man who "dresses like a dude" with a buckskin leather jacket, mustache and chops, Chavkin said.

On the other end lies Presley (played by an actress with a curly black wig, blue jeans and penny loafers), whose flare make him an androgynous figure, she said.

"Elvis clearly loved women but he seemed to identify with them in a blurry way in terms of gender identity...He would be considered subversive by Teddy's standards," said Chavkin. "Elvis dressed [his ex-wife] Priscilla like a doll and dyed her hair to match his own." 

The music-filled journey bursts with energy and laughs, Chavkin said — all with just two actresses playing the roles.

Kristen Sieh plays both Roosevelt and Ann's love interest, Glenda, while Actress Libby King stars as both Ann and Presley — and King's tactics to switch instantly between her two roles will have to be a "surprise" for viewers, Chavkin said.

"To a certain extent it's ridiculous, we have these two women playing these two hyper-masculine icons," said Chavkin, who is also the artistic director for The Team, the company producing the play.

But beneath the hilarity, "RoosevElvis" explores the challenge of understanding the nuances of a person's sexuality.

"As so much progress has been made on the gay marriage front, people who are not interested in adhering to hetero-normative values have been finding it harder," Chavkin said. "Ann is elements of both genders."

"RoosevElvis" starts preview performances Oct. 8 and the show officially runs Oct. 11 to Nov. 3., Tuesday to Sunday. General admission tickets are $25 and can be purchased on the play's website.