‘Elevada’ is an offbeat, multi-layered, exquisite comedy
The first scene of the offbeat romantic comedy “Elevada” — accurately depicting the awkwardness of a first date between two motor-mouthed misfits — is superlative.
The final scene — elegant, graceful and flawless — is equally exquisite.
Sandwiched between are two and a half hours of what I like best in the theater — something different.
Because “Elevada” is multi-layered.
With verbal shenanigans from the keyboard of playwright Sheila Callaghan (who’d penned chunks of the runaway TV smash “Shameless”) that demand you smile frequently, with sterling performances by each of the four principals, with digital projections by Erin Gilley as good as I’ve witnessed anywhere (including a speeding subway train sequence so real it made me mildly queasy), with slo-mo movements that sharpen dramatic moments, with pole-dancing funnier than anything found in a strip joint, with direction by Susannah Martin that seems utterly flawless, and with fantasy moments that are impeccable.
Sango Tajima is outstanding as impulse-driven Ramona, who’s on the cusp of death from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer, but a woman willing to at least temporarily risk total love and a flailing commitment to freedom.
Karen Offereins is an ideal counterpoint as her sister, June, who’s perfect posture and uncomfortable standoffish protectionism make me want to know exactly what transpired in their joint childhood.
Wes Gabrillo as Khalil, a high-energy, mentally discombobulated geek who’s instantly drawn to Ramona’s non-conformism, is superb as a desperate guy ready to sell his persona (and, in effect, soul) to a mega-corporation.
And Soren Santos successfully captures Khalil’s best bud, Owen, an ex-druggie now addicted to booze, tea and hope.
Rounding out the Shotgun Players’ dreamlike yet cerebral tale of amour transcending the horrors and tedium of modern life, a handful of choral dancers metaphorically glide through the title tango (which I learned means a partner’s feet are elevated rather than being grounded).
Magical moments abound.
Including a brilliant nightmarish scene in which Khalil is visited by a group of similarly dressed, similarly bespectacled male and female Khalils.
In the program, the Berkeley show’s director talks about being “swept off your feet; tripping, stumbling into love; running, floating, and falling away from your trauma; or floating out of your body.”
She suggests, correctly, that those images and themes “resound throughout.”
What it wasn’t necessary for her to say is that they apply not only to the play’s characters but to its rapt audience.
This rewritten, offbeat, sometimes disturbing, must-see version of “Elevada,” which had been commissioned by Yale Rep and staged in 2015, is its third production.
Clearly befitting the cliché that the third time’s a charm.
“Elevada” runs at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, through Nov. 17. Performances, 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $25 to $37. Info:http://shotgunplayers.org or 510-841-6500.