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‘Unemployed Elephants’ aims to inspire hope

‘Unemployed Elephants’ aims to inspire hope
Actors Brea Bee and Marshall McCabe star in the upcoming romantic-comedy play "Unemployed Elephants -- A Love Story," which is debuting on March 9 at the Victory Theatre Center. (Photo courtesy of Tim Sullens)

An upcoming play at the Victory Theatre Center in Burbank hopes to teach audiences that there is always time to find love, but also that there is hope for good in the world.

Actors Brea Bee and Marshall McCabe star in the romantic comedy "Unemployed Elephants — A Love Story," which will debut at the intimate theater, located at 3326 W. Victory Blvd., on Friday and run through April 15.

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The play is about two strangers who are looking to start over and trying to find love while on a trip to the southeast Asia country of Myanmar in 2015.

The production is directed by Maria Gobetti, a co-founder of the Victory Theatre Center. After attending a reading of the play, Gobetti said she fell in love with the dialogue between the two characters, and she liked that the story takes place in Myanmar before today's conflicts in the country.

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Currently, thousands of Rohingya, an indigenous ethnic group from Myanmar that is primarily Muslim, have been fleeing the country as the local government "ethnically cleanses" — as the United Nations identifies the human-rights violation — the group from the country.

"I felt that life is really always full of lighter and darker moments, and the major themes of 'Unemployed Elephants' are about love and trust, real care and lies," Gobetti said. "These two characters have to find their way to the trusts and truths that are important, just like we all do."

"Unemployed Elephants" is a short departure for playwright Wendy Graf, who is best known for her more serious plays, including "No Word in Guyanese for Me" and "Please Don't Ask About Becket."

Graf said she got the idea for the play after going on a trip with her husband to Myanmar in 2016, about a year before the conflict in the country began.

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Before going on the trip, she said she looked through travel brochures about Myanmar and thought it would be a beautiful place to vacation. But she added that she knew a little about the issues surrounding the Rohingya.

"I asked people there about the Rohingya, but nobody would talk about it," Graf said, adding that one of her tour guides had been sent to jail for speaking out against the Myanmar government on the topic.

During her trip, Graf also learned about another issue that the people of Myanmar were facing, and that was the unemployment of thousands of elephants.

She said the locals used the elephants to transport teak, a type of wood, but that came to an end after there was nothing left to harvest.

The idea to write the play as a comedy and not a drama came by circumstance. Graf said she wrote the play during a 48-hour playwriting exercise, in which she had two days to come up with a play based off a prompt.

Her prompt ended up being a picture of an elephant, which reminded her of her Myanmar trip.

Graf said she called the play "Unemployed Elephants" because the out-of-work animals shared similar attributes to the two people in the play.

"The two people are looking for a new life, and the elephants are also looking for a new life," she said. "The elephants got depressed and fat, like some people do in that situation. So, the elephants are a metaphor for the characters."

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Ultimately, Graf said her play is about giving people a sense of hope that love can be found wherever a person is in their life. However, she hopes that people also recognize the wrongdoings being done to those in Myanmar and others facing persecution elsewhere.

"So maybe, in kind of a backhanded way, out of a romantic comedy will come some knowledge of these human-rights violations there and around the world," she said. "We need to do something about it."

Twitter: @acocarpio

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