It’s hard to quantify the impact Elvis Presley had on the world of music. It’s even harder to quantify the impact ‘the King of Rock and Roll’ had on the lives of the people who followed and worshipped him.
Graceland and Asleep on the Wind, a play by Ellen Byron in two separate parts tells the story of three Americans from the South who believed Elvis could lift them up from the drudgery of their everyday lives.
In the first act, Graceland, two devoted Elvis fans, Rootie (Persia Blue) and Bev (Michelle Collins) show up simultaneously to the gates of Graceland in the early hours of the morning of its opening to the public in 1982. They’re both determined to be the first to enter Elvis’s former home, for very different reasons. Bev is initially aggressive towards Rootie, but when she discovers the painful past that Rootie is trying to overcome, a tender and unlikely friendship starts to blossom between them.
Asleep on the Wind takes place in Louisiana ten years earlier between Rootie and her older brother Beau (Leigh Scully). Beau is leaving the join the army and Rootie is desperate to keep her brother and best friend at home. It’s especially poignant, knowing what ends up happening to the two.
Persia Blue is fantastic as the ditzy and desperately optimistic Rootie. She wears heartbreak very well and plays two very different versions of the same character in both parts. Michelle Collins delivers some great comedic moments as Bev, but is somehow more effective in her character’s quieter moments. It’s a fine performance, even if her accent slips from time to time. Leigh Scully delivers ‘loving big brother’ perfectly as Beau. He’s a strong physical presence and radiates warmth.
Jo-Anne Cahill has directed an energetic, brisk production. The relationship between Rootie and Bev is exactly what it should be in Graceland and Asleep on the Wind burns with both physical energy and sensitivity.
In this production, the pain and hardships faced, especially by Rootie are palpable. The play is her story and her struggle. In spite of this, it’s an uplifting experience that’s perfect for the company behind it.
Operating Theatre aims to stage quality productions in Sydney venues and then takes them into hospitals for free performances. Their last show, For the Love of Mic: By George! opened at the Seymour Centre and was then taken to St Vincents Hospital for patients, their families and staff.
As such, their productions really need to appeal to a broad audience and they’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. Ellen Byron’s script is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s inoffensive and touches on two themes that are pretty universal – family and Elvis.
More importantly than anything, Operating Theatre have found a winner and are fulfilling their mission of bringing quality productions with quality performances to those most in need of an uplifting hour or two.