Washington City Paper Review: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Priyanka Shetty Consults the Cards in Keegan’s The Elephant in the Room

Temperance. The Magician. The Moon. The Devil. One by one on her dressing room floor, playwright and performer Priyanka Shetty reveals the tarot cards in her shuffled stack, allowing their meanings to guide her through a string of personal stories and epiphanies in The Elephant in the Room. Over the course of Shetty’s 90-minute solo journey, running at Keegan Theatre through June 23, she delves into love, loss, and determination to gain greater understanding of what it means to belong.

After sizing up the cultural forces around which she navigates, Shetty transitions into the complex relationships that shaped her decision to quit a software engineering job in India and pursue a master’s in acting at the University of Virginia. These personal components of Shetty’s story prove more engaging and allow her to exercise greater command of the audience.

Portraying oneself is an extremely difficult endeavor. Shetty achieves the greatest synergy between her writing and her performance when reenacting exchanges between those who’ve shaped her life: her parents, brother, aunties, and romantic interests among them. In these moments, Shetty is able to settle into an organic rhythm, at times relaxing so deeply into the sequence that she appears to be reliving the conversations spontaneously. Rather than attempting to connect with the audience across the lip of the stage, her gaze often strays upward or to the sides of the theater, somehow fostering a deeper, quieter intimacy than when she is explicitly breaking the fourth wall.

The Elephant in the Room exemplifies much of the spirit of Keegan’s developmental Boiler Room Series, under which this solo work received a workshop and presentation in 2020. … As Shetty continues to refine her voice as both a writer and a performer further experimentation with—and exploration of—structure and form will only elevate her promising work. Where will it lead? Consult the cards.