David Lee Nelson's Elephant in My Closet is earnest and bittersweet 

Trapped in the closet

The Elephant in My Closet is a one-man show from David Lee Nelson about coming out of the closet to his father ... as a Democrat. We’ve used that line several times in our pre-festival coverage, but really, the show’s about a lot more than that. It’s about the past and current state of politics in the U.S. and the fall of the GOP. It’s about being a proud Republican and then having it ripped away by a string of disappointing decisions made by the country’s leaders. And it’s about switching sides — for now, at least.

Nelson is a 2000 College of Charleston grad who makes his living as a comedian in New York, and he’s brought two other successful shows to Piccolo over the years, Skinny White Comics and Status Update. His latest production was co-created by Adam Knight, with dramaturgy by Kristin Vieira. Elephant doesn’t earn the guffaws that his previous shows did, but most people are a lot more serious about the subject of politics than, say, Facebook.

The set is spare. Nelson sits behind a desk with his notes, a pen, and a microphone in front of him, looking a bit like a late-night host or a political pundit. Photos and quotes are projected behind him using a basic PowerPoint presentation, giving the feel of a college course with a cool professor who talks so fast and with such enthusiasm that he occasionally stumbles over his words and spits on the students on the front row.

And Act 1 is much like a college course as Nelson gives us a quick-hitting history of the Republican Party, all the way back to when it was centered in the Northern states and its platform included stopping the spread of slavery and modernizing the economy. “Republicans were amazing,” Nelson says. “It’s like those old photos of your grandma when you realize she was once gorgeous and slutty. Republicans were gorgeous and slutty!”

He then talks about his family’s history with the party, his father’s fanatic devotion, and how, as a kid, Nelson was just as fanatic. It’s how he bonded with his dad, and as he got into the theater world and started to meet more Democrats, he became the voice of the right. Politics were a team sport — much like his family’s beloved Hokie football — and he wanted to win.

The gay marriage debate was his first big disappointment in the party, and then there was the war in Iraq, and then Sarah Palin. And that’s when he lost faith in the GOP. That’s when turned off Rush Limbaugh on the radio dial and began listening to jazz. That’s when he voted for Obama (an admission that earned applause from the audience).

Nelson’s earnest, thoughtful, and mostly balanced approach to the wild world of politics make this show accessible to anyone, although it’s obviously more appealing to Democrats, because they have something to cheer for in the end. Only in the epilogue does Nelson tell his father the news — after he spots a poster for Nelson’s new show — and it’s a bittersweet ending. They’ve lost the bond of shared political views, but at least there’s always Hokie football.

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