Capital Fringe Review: ‘The Elephant in My Closet’ by Leslie Weisman

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FOUR STARS
Looking at the title of this show, you know it’s a metaphor. And even without knowing anything about what the show’s about, you probably feel sure you know what the metaphor’s for. Which makes it a deliciously devious way to get you thinking from the get-go—as you quickly realize the error of your ways—that prejudgment, whose most insidious forms are examined in The Black-Jew Dialogues, may not be something that just “they” are vulnerable to. This time, it got you, too.

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But it’s an innocent mistake, you will say, because of the natural associations we have with that phrase. David Lee Nelson, whose one-man show humorously but cogently (with a scholarly segue into American political history, complete with PowerPoint presentation) explores how his dyed-in-the-wool, red-to-the-bone conservative Republican upbringing once defined him, offers an alternative. Which, like the subtlety of the title, will hit home only later, after you’ve enjoyed hearing your own political persuasions and certainties confirmed. (They. . . uh . . . were.  Weren’t they?)

Raised in Greenville, S.C. (“We elected Strom Thurmond 800 times”) to revere Ronald Reagan, whose tenure covered much of the actor-comedian’s childhood, Nelson associated him with the passionate invocation, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and the patriotic fervor of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” and grew up “very black and white. There was the good team and the bad team—and we were the good team.” Its members defined themselves by the politicians they supported, with 700 Club televangelist Pat Robertson a near-deity for true believers, who were rabid about his—and their—rightness.

But there also were George Bush’s “grandfatherly eyes.” And the yellow ribbons for the Iran hostages, “this unabashed patriotism. And the pride in America was palpable.” A couple of years later, the Monica Lewinsky scandal would add another blot to that “other side,” but also to his own: “I learned that politics was a team sport. And politics is all about winning.” As a boy whose arch-conservative father was a lifetime Hokie fan, and raised him to be the same (he wears a Virginia Tech hoodie for the show), he also realized that “politics, like football, is a full contact sport.”

So how did he come to switch teams, to transfer life-long loyalties and allegiances to a party and people that everyone he loved, despised and demonized?  To pull the lever for Barack Obama after years of believing Rush Limbaugh?  (And why does he call his stoner period his “Rush Limbaugh Years”?) What roles did the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the 2000 election play?  And… how did David Lee Nelson break the news to his father?

For a full play-by-play—and to see how that elephant got into the closet—the choice is clear. But be forewarned: your certainties could become cloudy. For many, if not most of us, that’s an hour well spent.

Running Time: 70 minutes

Written and performed by: David Lee Nelson
Directed by: Adam Knight

The Elephant in My Closet plays through July 17, 2013 at Caos on F – 923 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, visit the show’s Capital Fringe page.

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