by: Rudy Gerson
Many of us understand Tourette Syndrome (TS) to be a biological glitch, an uncontrollable hiccup that strikes a person from an outside place, a dissociated eruption. I learned otherwise after seeing The Elephant in Every Room I Enter, a new solo work currently playing a limited engagement at LaMama’s First Floor Theatre (74A East 4th St.). Gardiner Comfort freely performs with his tic — an aggressive throat cough — and teaches that people have vocal tics, motor tics, or both, and the capacity to control and monitor these tics can vary greatly.
Co-creator and performer Gardiner Comfort leads a bold and captivating performance in this original piece and deftly toes the line between confidence and humility as he explores the exclusion and misunderstanding that accompanies a life burdened by Tourette Syndrome. Comfort and fellow creator and director Kel Haney escort audiences into his psyche, neither asking for pity nor promising false hope, in a sensitive comedy sure to educate and entertain.
The story: Comfort scored an invite to the Tourette Syndrome National Conference in Washington D.C. after his peers at the NYC chapter of Tourette Association of America felt he’d be a charming delegate performing his original ‘Tourette’s Dance.’ Unsure, he went to the conference and became the temporary mentor to the scores of wide-eyed youth in attendance. The play is his attempt to make sense of his experience in D.C. and his existence in New York City.
Early in the show, Comfort puts his physical control and impressive craft on display during his ‘Tourette’s Dance’ making for a mesmerizing cameo. His humility mixed with his acute observational prowess produces rich storytelling that’s warm, generous, and impressive in its range. The performance is demystifying and educational from the perfect person to do so: an actor who has lived with TS his whole life.
While he mimics many of the people he meets at the conference, his impersonations are fair and respectful. He manages to glean comedy from a neurological disorder, perhaps in a way that only an insider can successfully accomplish.
The bare stage is brought to life through the dynamic choreography by Dan Safer and technologically savvy scenic design by Caite Hevner Kemp and Lianne Arnold. The use of sound, light, and projection made an otherwise basic brick-wallled room into a life-filled, multidimensional, interactive playing space. The technological blips and sonic skips of sound designer Elisheba Ittoop brought the mental weight of TS to auditory life. Audiences are drawn inside the multisensory experience of a person with TS.
It’s equal parts artistically bold and politically important. It would come as no surprise to this reviewer if the national non-profit dedicated to supporting those with TS recognized the show and sponsored a national tour. By the end, audiences will be invested in Comfort’s journey to uncover order in a world that feels as frenetic as Tourette Syndrome itself.
Deft self-observation, sensitive acting, and inventive direction, The Elephant in Every Room I Enter is a specific inquiry into TS, but also a general commentary on the lengths we go to carve out a place in the world we can call our own. The show is for everyone who has ever struggled to feel worthwhile and valuable. In other words, this show is for all of us.
The Elephant in Every Room I Enter runs through October 31st. Purchase tickets at lamama.org/the-elephant-in-every-room-i-enter-2