The Elephant Song

Bakehouse Theatre - 16 Nov

The best thing about this play is that it led to my personal discovery of The Elephant Song.  In The Elephant Song, Eric Herman sings how elephants swing through trees and a kid interrupts and says no, that’s monkeys.  So Eric says, oh yes, monkeys, I like how they swim in the ocean, and then the kid says, no that’s fish.  And so on, through a good part of the animal kingdom, until finally it gets back to elephants.

Canadian and fellow Torontonian, Nicolas Billon, was inspired by this 2002 ditty and wrote his short play of the same name in 2004.  In his version, Dr Greenberg, head of a psyche hospital, takes on the questioning of a patient, Michael, about the disappearance of Michael’s shrink.  Michael is clever and leads Greenberg down the path of the elephant song until the banal conclusion.

There may be lots of layers somewhere in this daisy chain dialogue of dead ends, but if Greenberg reached for the phone one more time to call the nurse and have Michael taken away for spouting nonsense, I was going to leave.  There was nothing really at stake and in the end; chocolates were exchanged for a hand-written note that explained everything.  I hope I didn’t give it away.

Tim Lucas as the intelligent and game-playing Michael never really convinced.  I’m not sure what Michael’s mental illness was – maybe Billon didn’t give him one.  But he was certainly impish and mischievous.  Roger Newcombe, God bless him, thought he was doing television and minimalised his mojo until it almost completely disappeared on stage, even though it was a very tiny theatre.  Lyn Pike found exactly the right balance as the occasionally appearing nurse and made much of a minor role.  Stage furniture was from the op shop.  Either director Peter Green didn’t find what Billon was trying to say or Billon had trouble expressing himself, I’m not sure.

David Grybowski