Clemente Soto Vélez Center, Manhattan

By Andrew Andrews

Ayesha Saleh, Raiane Cantisano, William Serri, Ita Korenzecher, Michael Pichardo and Laura Lamberti transform a nineteenth-century brothel into a dreamland in Elephant at the Flamboyan Theatre. Original photo by N-K Photography.

It’s the same old story: the thirteen-year-old daughter of a French prostitute gets pregnant a week after she has her first period… and she’s going to give birth to an Éléphant.

You’ve heard it a thousand times or more, right? So what makes this version so special?

Maybe it’s the setting: a French brothel around the turn of the century (which for some reason will always mean circa 1900, even though more than a hundred years has passed). Or perhaps it’s the dream sequences that take place in India around a stream that flows with honey, where a nine-year-old prostitute (Ayesha Saleh) does her laundry. Probably, though, it’s the touchingly-conveyed naiveté of the aforementioned daughter, Clérèse (Raiane Cantisano, whom we last saw in Ms. Estrada at the Flea), who has never even seen an elephant—only a rudimentary drawing. Raised in an environment that few have ever seen (or would ever care to see), Clérèse knows everything about the difference between fucking and making love (“women cry after a night of making love but not after being fucked”) but nothing about their commonalities. And now that she’s “bled,” she’s eager to start earning money as a prostitute (“it’s not bad work… maybe a little dangerous, but what job has no danger?”). Now pregnant, she’s sure that the father—a sixteen-year-old garçon (William Serri) to a blind client (Eric Parness) of her mother, Magdith (Ita Korenzecher)—will return to her, because he’s the only man she’s ever made love to, and he told her that he loved her.

Written by Eva MeiLing Pollitt, Éléphant is the kind of script that could easily find success on Broadway. But don’t wait! Brush up on your basic French phrases (the production is peppered with them!) and head down to the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center for Rising Sun Performance Company’s production before it closes on August 5th. Then, when tickets for the big-theater production are hard to come by, you can brag to your friends that you saw the show in a more intimate setting—when you could practically reach out and touch Clérèse’s “breasts like Christmas cakes.” But leave the kids at home, because although proceeds from this production are shared with Polaris—a leader in the fight to eradicate human and sex trafficking—a story like this is for mature audiences only.

Oh and one more thing: after you see the show, come back here and let us know what you thought of the performance! Your reviews help others decide if this show is right for them, and your ratings help us help you find future performances—on Broadway or off (or even off-off) that you’re sure to love!

Andrew Andrews attended Éléphant at Clemente Soto Vélez Center in Manhattan on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 @ 5:45pm to write this review.