“The Elephant in the Room” is a solo musical comedy that was written and performed by Melanie Greenberg tells the tale of a nice Jewish girl who goes on a psychedelic odyssey through Pentecostal churches, psych wards, the Ivy League and 12-step meetings, which ultimately brings her closer to God, herself and a resolution of intergenerational trauma. The show is premiering to a sold-out crowd October 29th, and there are additional shows November 6 and 7 at Theatre Row in NYC, and while it is the first time it is being performed, this will not be the last iteration of her story. Tickets and info here. (Hyperlink to this link please: https://bfany.org/theatre-row/shows/united-solo-theatre-festival-2021/)
Melanie Greenberg is the writer and star of the show which is based on her own personal life experiences. Melanie has been a performer her whole life and she uses the stage to explore her inner depths, including deeply seeded traumas. Melanie has not led an easy life. At the age of fifteen, she ran away from her New York City home. Melanie subsequently ended up moving between religious cults, mental institutions, and other problematic situations before finding her feet again in the theater…and her way back to New York.
Melanie’s latest project centers on developing a nonprofit organization called The Story Sanctuary in the Berkshires, where individuals and communities in conflict can come together to build empathy and self-awareness through storytelling.
She recently discussed her career and life via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for performing and how did you first get acquainted with the stage?
Melanie Greenberg (MG): I was ten, cast in a local production of “Annie” as Pepper. The main orphan besides, you know, Annie. The girl cast as Annie was a total ringer. She had been cast as Annie in four previous productions. Her name was Kimberly Anne and she used to wear a sweatshirt to rehearsals that said “Kimberly ANNIE.” When I got cast as her understudy, I started wearing my own sweatshirt to rehearsals that said “MelANNIE.” Three straight weeks of performances, she never once got sick.
MM: What drove you to run away at fifteen?
MG: I’m still trying to unravel this one a little, but I think that I was mostly just looking for freedom. And I also never fully recovered from not getting cast as Annie.
MM: Why did Pentecostal Christianity appeal to you and why did you go to Texas in particular?
MG: I went to Texas more or less by accident. When I left home, I traveled to Florida expecting to have a Miami beach experience. Unfortunately, that’s not the experience you get when you fly to Tampa. So, I decided to hop a bus to New Orleans, where I spent a week or so bumming around the French Quarter with a couple of Dutch guys I had met. Since the Dutch are extremely compelling travel companions, when they caught a train to California, I decided to join them until my money ran out in Houston. I met a woman on the train as I waited to pull into the station. Sensing that I was not the 19-year-old gap year-taking student I claimed to be, she invited me to come stay with her family. As it turned out they were Pentecostal, which is how I got my introduction to the church. I think the thing that appealed to me most about Pentecostalism was that the family that introduced me to it was really lovely and the people screaming on that church floor seemed very sure that they were channeling direct communication with God.
MM: You later got involved in a cult-like situation. So, how did you escape that?
MG: The cult-like situation was a “therapeutic” boarding school, the spin-off an actual cult called Synanon. I tried to escape, multiple times. Once, even on rollerblades. Eventually, I surrendered to the program, did my time and graduated two years later. And it’s only taken me the last 25 to un-brainwash myself.
MM: You have mentioned spending time in state-run institutions. So, how did these experiences effect you?
MG: I actually haven’t been in any state-run institutions unless you count Yale. But that’s more of a deep-state institution. I have been in my fair share of privately-run rehabs and psych wards, about which I will only say that sometimes the cure begets the illness.
MM: Your life story is quite tragic, so how come you decided to interject so much comedy into the play about it?
MG: I wouldn’t characterize my life as tragic. I’ve had some traumatic experiences to be sure, but I’ve grown from them. And at the end of the day, I really believe that that which doesn’t kill you makes you funnier.
MM: What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?
MG: I think we all have old stories about ourselves and our lives that keep us stuck. I hope that people come away from my performance with the sense that they can also rewrite their own stories into a psychedelic musical. Or whatever their personal equivalent of that may be.
MM: What is the best feedback you’ve gotten about the show?
MG: That it’s brilliant and hilarious.
MM: What other pieces have you created and were they also crafted from life experiences?
MG: If you look at my website www.melanie.greenberg.com, you’ll notice I mentioned an unpublished novel, an un-broadcasted tv pilot and a poorly subscribed YouTube channel. I like to brag that I’ve failed in all that arts! All of these creative works were drawn at least loosely from my own experiences, though none quite so much as “The Elephant in the Room.”
MM: How would you like to see your career evolve from here?
MG: Ideally, I’d like to finally get to play Annie. But if I had to, I would settle for getting this show produced on Broadway and winning Tonys for both writing and starring in it.