‘Elevada’ is an offbeat, multi-layered, exquisite comedy

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★

In “Elevada,” Khalil (Wes Gabrillo) enjoys watching Ramona (Sango Tajima) frolic on a pole while Owen (Soren Santos) lies dead-drunk off to the side. Photo: Robbie Sweeny.

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.

And odd.

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.

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →