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November 7, 2017
Review: The Gallery Players’ ‘The Elephant Man’
Adam Unze and M. Rowan Meyer (photo by Matthew S. Crane)

Known as the "Elephant Man," Joseph Merrick (whom the Gallery Players' version of the play The Elephant Man together with the David Lynch film call John Merrick), was a severely deformed man and a Victorian-era curiosity, first as a traveling freak show exhibit billed as ‘Half-a-man and half-an-elephant’ and then as a resident of London Hospital where he was studied, gossiped about in the press and visited by inquisitive high society. The play, written by the recently deceased Bernard Pomerance, premiered at London’s Hampstead Theatre in 1977, before making its transition to Broadway a couple of years later. David Bowie would go on to play the title role, as would Bradley Cooper more recently.

Frederick Treves (Adam Unze) is welcomed by Mr. Gomm (Alfred Gingold), a hospital administrator, as the new physician at London Hospital. Across the street in Whitechapel, Treves encounters Ross (Daniel Damiano), a freak show boss and the epitome of cockney villainy. Ross claims that his star attraction, the Elephant Man, “forces himself to suffer these humiliations...to survive.” John Merrick’s (M. Rowan Meyer) unveiling occurs against a backdrop of photographs of the real Joseph Merrick. Without prosthetics, Meyer as Merrick gradually shifts and contorts his half-naked body until his physical form correlates with these images and Treves’ description of his medical notes.

On tour in Brussels, following a strained, tormented performance of sorts from his ‘Pinhead’ (Jesi Mullins and Brooke Deanna Robinson) freak show cohorts, Merrick is banned and beaten by the police and then robbed of his earnings by Ross. Returning to London’s Liverpool Street Station, his appearance inspires an angry mob and the authorities fetch Treves. At London Hospital, Merrick becomes a study piece for Treves whose "aim for him is to lead as normal a life as possible.” With the help of Gomm’s press article, funds are raised from a curious public that allow Merrick’s hospital residency. This attracts the attention of actress Mrs. Kendal (Elisabeth Preston), who forms a bond with Merrick, an erstwhile novice with respect to keeping female company. Their discussions expose Merrick's true intellect as well as his deliberations on Romeo & Juliet and the love affair therein. As the perception of Merrick advances within fashionable London society, his desire to become a normal human being creates a moral conflict within Treves who is eager to protect him.

Director Mark Gallagher has shaped a gloomy atmosphere, pertinent to the narrative and facilitated by scenic designer Matthew S. Crane’s ruinous columns, Jacob Subotnick’s somber music and an engaging ensemble. The stamina of Meyer’s distressed physicality often emotes more than the conversational pieces; at times the attention to dialogue exposes the potential that is absent from the more contemplative segments. The Elephant Man is nonetheless an eloquently written, thoughtful play; in this instance, well put together, if not a little too restrained. The more compelling scenes include Kendal and Merrick’s evolving friendship and their investigation of one another. As Mrs. Kendal, Preston’s charm and vulnerability instill warmth where there is sadness. Overall, the Gallery Players’ production is commendable for its safeguarding of a heart-rending story.

Connected Post:

Review: The Gallery Players’ “Sweet Bird of Youth”

By Saima Huq

The Gallery Players’ rendition of Sweet Bird of Youth is all the beautiful raw tragedy at the heart of Tennessee Williams’ works, which is perhaps the greatest gift an audience can get. Under the flawless direction of Jesse Marchese, these actors deliver. Opening up in the Royal Palms Hotel in Saint Cloud, we see the 29-year-old Chance Wayne (a stellar Adam Fontana) traveling with a legendary actress (the magnetic Nancy Rich), who is “not old, but not young” and using the pseudonym “Princess Kosmonopolis” to avoid publicity. However, Chance needs her to embrace that publicity to further his own schemes. As it turns out, he brought the Princess to St Cloud because it is his hometown, and he is seeking out Heavenly Finley (Erin Beirnard), his high school sweetheart with whom he is still in love though he has wronged her so badly that she is all but broken. And he is enough of a kid to share all this with the Princess as if she is his agony aunt and not a woman he is escorting as well. The play also weaves through the lives of all those who have remained in St Cloud, such as the Finley family, whose patriarch Boss Finley (James Harter) trots out his children to stump for his political …Read more

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Written by: K Krombie
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