An enlightening search for identity in ‘The Elephant in the Room’ at Keegan

Priyanka Shetty's wonderfully original and entertaining one-woman show tells her story with pride, resilience, and eloquence.

Playwright, performer, and proclaimed metalhead Priyanka Shetty takes the stage at Keegan Theatre to present her one-woman show, The Elephant in the Room. Shetty guides the audience through an internal exploration of her insecurities, life discoveries, and the ongoing journey to find her identity.

The stage is Shetty’s dressing room, with a changing screen in one upstage corner, decorated with pictures, fliers, and other personal mementos. In the opposite corner are some trunks and a lighted mirror where she does her makeup. A yoga mat is laid on the ground, a chair sits in the middle of the room, and a few pillows are strewn on the floor. The room is comfortable and unassuming.

Priyanka Shetty in ‘The Elephant in the Room.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Shetty speaks to the audience in a warm and familiar tone as she prepares for her show. The crowd is a friend, a confidant. The voice of her stage manager chimes in occasionally with the countdown to showtime and updates on the (dreaded) arrival of her parents in the audience. But first, the voice notifies Shetty that a parcel arrived for her and was left in the room, with no return address.

After a rollercoaster of initial apprehension over the unknown gift — which could almost certainly be anthrax — to the conclusion that it must be a note from an adoring fan, Shetty opens the package and takes out Ganesha-themed tarot cards — Ganesha is the Hindu god of wisdom and the remover of obstacles. With these cards, Shetty navigates the assorted aspects of her character that determine who she is as an individual.

“Who am I?” is a question she poses repeatedly. And the answer evolves as the show progresses. Shetty describes pieces of her childhood, sometimes through exposition of memory and other times acting out scenes between herself and other members of her family. One particular conversation with her mother centers around the rules and restrictions that she is subjected to that don’t apply to her brother. As a young girl in India, Priyanka is already being told what she cannot do, who she cannot be.

Another reminiscence is of a love from her past: a man who inspired her to leave behind her life as a software engineer in India to go to America and become an actress. Shetty is an artist, an adventurer. But is she who her parents wanted her to be? Is she a disappointment?

Shetty recounts with affection her aunties who nitpicked her appearance in the lovingly stinging way that only aunties can. She recalls professors who were only capable of seeing her otherness. She remembers the blatant racism and white supremacy she encountered in Trump’s America. She is a stereotype, an immigrant to be assimilated.

As Shetty weaves the history of her life and attempts to bring the many varied moments into a singular point, a solid and defined image of herself, she discovers the kaleidoscope of her personality and the uniqueness of her collective experiences.

Priyanka Shetty in ‘The Elephant in the Room.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Priyanka Shetty’s The Elephant in the Room is a thought-provoking show, celebrating the beauty of diversity, while also calling out the united sameness of humanity — what Shetty calls “the bark and branches” once you remove the outer layer of foliage. The performance is as relatable as it is enlightening. And Shetty delivers her story with pride, resilience, and eloquence.

The desire to know oneself and feel like you belong is universal. But how do you define a person? Is it your origin? Your profession? How do you fit into your own skin in a world where no one and nothing is ever good enough? It is through your truth. And while being true to yourself is not a new concept (hello, Shakespeare), Shetty presents her path to this realization in a wonderfully original and entertaining way that is entirely her own.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

The Elephant in the Room plays through June 23, 2024 (Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm), at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church Street NW, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets ($50 each plus $5 fee, with discounts available) online, by email ([email protected]), by calling the box office at (202) 265-3767, or in person at the Keegan Theatre Box Office, which opens on the day of the show one hour before the performance.

The Elephant in the Room
Playwright & Performer: Priyanka Shetty

Director: Suli Holum; Original Director & Dramaturg: Theresa M. Davis; Stage Manager: Gabrielle Busch; Scenic Designer: Dirk Durossette; Lighting Designer: Julie Briski; Lighting Coordinator: Ben Harvey; Sound Designer: Natali D Merill; Composer: Heather Mease; Sound Coordinator: Gordon Nimmo:Smith; Associate Sound Coordinator: Zoe Lucas; Costume Designer: Katherine Stefl; Costume Designer: Leigh Paradise; Dramaturg: Lavina Jadhwani

Priyanka Shetty’s ‘Elephant in the Room’ returns to Keegan for DC premiere (news story, June 6, 2024)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here