Originality on display with Playhouse’s ‘Breaking Up With Elvis’
Published 3:47 am Thursday, July 11, 2019
By DAVID CARRIER
Pioneer Playhouse’s third play of the season, “Breaking Up With Elvis” is part of the Kentucky Voices series, which features productions that celebrate and embody the culture, stories and playwrights of the Bluegrass.
Email newsletter signup
While most of the play takes place at modern-day Graceland, Elvis Presley’s palatial estate in Memphis, the impetus of its plot is an August 1977 concert at Rupp Arena. The now-hallowed Lexington venue was less than a year old when the King decided to come to town, and adoring fans stood in line for days to get tickets.
Unfortunately, the concert never happened. One week before he was set to take the stage in Lexington, Elvis met his untimely death at the age of 42.
Written and directed by the Playhouse’s own Artistic Director Robby Henson, “Breaking Up With Elvis” uses the famous singer’s life and music as the framework for a surprisingly intimate story about family, specifically mothers and daughters.
When recently widowed Elvis fan Hazel (Patricia Hammond) receives some mysterious memorabilia in the mail — a set of tickets from the “ghost concert” at Rupp that she never got to attend — she absconds to Memphis to try to reconnect with her past.
Following close behind is Hazel’s daughter Toof (Brittany Polk) and her coworker and not-so-secret admirer Kyle (Forrest Loeffler). As we learn about Hazel and Toff’s imperfect past, we are also introduced to a surrogate daughter Hazel picks up on her pilgrimage to Graceland: Brittany Ashley (Katherine Rose Reardon), a wayward, loud and feisty single mother-to-be.
All of the lead actresses are fantastic. Each brings something different and dynamic to the play’s maternal and familial themes. I was especially impressed by Polk, who has a pivotal flashback scene where she takes on a dual role, portraying a younger Hazel, affecting the more Southern accent and mannerisms of the other character.
Reardon is likewise great. Along with Eric Seale and Jesse Smith, who play a pair of bumbling Graceland security guards, Reardon primarily serves in a comedic role. But she doesn’t disappoint in the more serious moments, either, usually in those scenes with her character’s estranged lover, the camouflage-clad ne’er-do-well Gator (Chandler Stephenson).
The real standout of the play, though, is Barry Lockard as Big E, an Elvis impersonator that befriends the gang outside of Graceland and espouses some interesting conspiracy theories. As the play progresses — depending on how one wants to interpret it — Lockard portrays the ethereal spirit of the King himself, introducing and transitioning scenes through Presley’s classic songs and signature dance moves.
Surprisingly, Lockard has no acting experience or training whatsoever, outside of his apropos, real-life side gig as an Elvis impersonator. He is also pulling double duty as pre-show entertainment for part of the play’s run.
“Breaking Up With Elvis” differs from the first two plays of the season in its originality. It doesn’t rely on existing fictional characters, which makes Henson’s writing all the more impressive.
The play has more than enough allusions to Elvis to satisfy even the most die-hard fan, as well as loads of references to events and locales around the commonwealth, really making it worthy of the “Kentucky Voices” designation. More importantly, though, the play has a nice balance of comedy and sincerity, with some rich themes that might warrant repeat viewings.