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The Elephant Man

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Bernard Pomerance

COMPANY : Rosewater Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Rosewater Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 3281

SHOWING : January 30, 2009 - February 28, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

This is the true story of a man whose body is hideously deformed, but within is a remarkably sensitive and intelligent being. Merrick is exploited by Victorian society and philanthropy. He is befriended by an ambitious and brilliant young surgeon who looks after him in his last few years finding him a home in a London hospital where the lovable freak's presence is shrewdly used for fund raising. Merrick is introduced to high society, becoming dependent on the success his deformity brings him. A well known actress tries to ease his loneliness, but her efforts are thwarted by hypocrisy. Even those who love him can't help him and ultimately he dies from his horrible affliction. Winner of numerous Tony Awards including Best Play, The Elephant Man was revived on Broadway for the 2002 season.


CAST & CREW LIST
Production Manager G. Scott Riley
Director Amelia Bahr
Lighting Design Deryl Cape
Stage Manager Julie Taliaferro
Dr. Frederick Treves Joel Altherr
Bishop Walsham How & Ross Josh Ellis
John Merrick Russ D. Ivey
F. Carr-Gomm & Belgian Policeman Jerry Jobe
Snork, Conductor, & Voice Kevin Kreissl
Lord John, London Policeman, Pinhead Car Peter Perozzi
Pinhead 1, Princess Alexandra, Duchess Kat Reynolds
Pinhead 2, Countess, & Nurse Sandwich Amy Tallmadge
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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to see with the heart.....
by a thespian in tears
Thursday, February 12, 2009
4.5
I have seen bits and pieces of the old, original, black and white, "The Elephant Man," but I have never seen it on stage, (and I loved it staged in the Theatre in the Round at Rosewater,) but I thought I knew what to expect basically. I expected it would be a dramatic and emotional play, painful to watch at times, and that I would cry... as I tend to be a dramatic and emotional person and therefore that's what I do fairly easily... cry... and I will say that I was not disappointed in my expectations. I had my teary moments throughout the play. I won't give away any important details for those that haven't seen the stage production before, but what I didn't expect was to laugh at the touching humor and tender emotions of The Elephant Man, John Merrick, as portrayed by Russ Ivey...I wasn't even sure if we the audience would be able to understand him when he spoke, but you get to see many facets to this amazing man and his life by the breath that Russ Ivey has breathed into this character... I didn't expect that either...you experience, as you do with the other characters in the show, the strengths and weaknesses, the triumphs and struggles, and the beauty and the ugliness of mankind, and I don't mean in outward appearances....

The whole cast was great....Lisa Sherouse Riley, as Mrs. Kendall, had a perfect blend of warmth and wit. The expressions on her face and the look in her eyes in some of the scenes with John Merrick, especially the first and last time she saw him, were very heartfelt and tender...Joel Altherr as Dr. Frederick Treves really did a splendid job in portraying a man conflicted by so much around him that he could not control, especially in the final scenes where he was called upon to play his character with so much anger, grief and sorrow... you could truly feel his pain.....In addition to the above, I can't say enough about Russ Ivey as John Merrick...the transformation from a "normal" man to the "elephant" man was remarkable, and again unexpected, right before your very eyes, and he never broke character after that...even in the dimness of the theater during the smooth scene changes, or when he was not in the spotlight, he stayed completely in character as he slowly moved about or was consumed in his activities...it was mesmerizing to watch for the entire show...it was also most impressive, when to be contorted in such a manner must feel very unnatural to one's body especially to continue for a period of time while trying to act on stage...

A talented performer, whose opinions I admire and respect, once told me that the biggest compliment one can give an actor is to say that "he or she inhabited a character"...and Russ Ivey truly "inhabited" John Merrick....in every way, shape and form...inside and out....

Kudos to the director, cast, and crew and to the Rosewater Theater for the expected and the unexpected of a show well done...

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The Animal Within
by Dedalus
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
3.5
I’ve always been a fan of Bernard Pomerance’s 1979 play, “The Elephant Man.” I remember seeing it with the original cast (whatever became of Philip Angrim?), and have always appreciated its potpourri of style and theme (science v faith, the blindness of Victorian moral tropes, the nature of humanness, the nature of the mob, the nature of societal stratification). No Aristotelian Unities here, yet it still always felt “whole” and compelling. I was slightly disappointed when the movie of the same story (NOT an adaptation of the play) chose to go the heavy make-up route rather than show us the “human” trapped inside the grotesque, yet the other hand, the singular achievement of John Hurt in the title role of that film was to eventually let us see the human DESPITE the make up.

It was actually with a bit of trepidation that I approached Rosewater Theatre’s new production – I hadn’t seen or read the play in decades, and I am only too well aware of how old favorites can be shown to have clay feet, either through “not aging well” or through the life experiences so many years can add to our perceptual filters. I wasn’t sure if the play would be a good “fit” in Rosewater’s in-the-round venue. Add to that the added pressure of reviewing a friend in the title role, and you have the formula for a no-win evening at the formula.

The good news is that, to my relief, Russ Ivey nails the title role, and is the chief reason to see this production. (Yes, I admitted he’s a friend, so you can take this paragraph with whatever grains of bias that implies). He manages to convey a range of emotion with a single frozen facial expression, finds an equally wide range of emotional colors with his line readings despite the limited vocal style required of the role, and makes the demanding physical contortion seem natural and evocative of the images of the real Merrick that have become familiar to us. My single complaint is that he occasionally lets his cane become more of an actor’s prop than an actual walking aid, but that happens so rarely I, for one, am willing to overlook it.

The supporting actors who take on multiple smaller roles are also quite good in their distinctive characterizations. They convinced with multiple dialects and fast costume changes, and filled out the roster of characters far more than a cursory glance at the program would suggest.

On the other hand, I wasn’t particularly moved by the other two leads. I found both Dr. Treves and Mrs. Kendall to be surprisingly bland and ineffectual. Treves in particular failed to provide the needed contrast with Merrick, and most of their scenes together plodded rather than soared – it is usually their conflicting natures that provides the dramatic “motor” that drives this plot, and here, it didn’t seem to go beyond “idle.” Faring better, Mrs. Kendall was believable in her interactions with Merrick, but was also surprisingly low-key for a “woman of the theatre” – I’m used to a bit of flamboyance in the role, and here, she came across to me as just another middle-class British woman.

I’m also not sure the play has aged particularly well. The often contrasting thematic elements now seem to clash, and Merrick’s story is sometimes lost in the rush to make this or that point. Though rooted in his life story, many of the incidents now seem to be mere contrivances, especially the second act British Class System elements. Still, through it all, Mr. Ivey manages to retain the heart of John Merrick, making him come across as more than a playwright’s puppet.

The transition to an in-the-round staging did work rather well. Movement was kept fluid and visible, and good use was made of the space’s resemblance to a Victorian “Operating Theatre,” particularly in Treves’ initial description of Merrick. I half-wish this conception would have been carried through the entire play, and, to a degree, I suppose it was, but it was a wonderful opportunity that was acknowledged (not grasped).

In fact, I have only two quibbles about the direction and design, both of which can probably be easily rebutted. First, the design issue – the carnival poster where Merrick is first discovered, rather than an exaggerated half-elephant carton, was an actual drawing of the real Merrick. This may have been a good choice, since it is visible throughout the play and takes the place of the slide show that couldn’t work “in-the-round” – still, it made that carnival scene just miss slightly, since it doesn’t convey the sort of over-the-top exaggeration that is one opf the joys of seedy side shows.

My other quibble is the scene XVIII (“We are Dealing With an Epidemic”) dream sequence staging. Traditionally, this is done with the actor playing Merrick dropping the “Elephant Man” physicality and pacing around Treves like a standard (and healthy) lecturer, echoing Treves’ original lecture from the top of the play. Here, though, Mr. Ivey retained his limp and his cane, making less of a contrast, and undercutting the impact of the scene. While this wasn’t a fatal choice – the scene still works, after all – it did strike me as suspect and odd. On the other hand, this could just be a case of my preconceptions blinding me to what was actually in front of my eyes.

So, although I do have some criticisms, I believe this is a good production of a somewhat dated play that reminds me why I loved it thirty years ago. It is well-designed and captures the mood of the piece very well indeed (special kudos need to go to the person who selected the cello transition pieces and to an effective use of the music in the “pinheads” scenes). For the most part, it is well-acted, and the acting quibbles I cited above were a product of energy and interpretation rather than ability. And, most important, in the central role of John Merrick, Russ Ivey is a revelation – a textbook example of how emotional range can be conveyed without the actor’s standard tools – face and voice. Mr. Ivey shows us the man behind the mask, the dreamer behind the grotesque. And it is quite wonderful to see.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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Very well done!
by KDJ
Monday, February 2, 2009
4.5
I enjoyed the Rosewater Theater’s production of The Elephant Man very much! I can’t say that I’ve seen a community theater production with such a strong cast across the board. Usually there are one or two parts that could have been played better, but all parts were played very well. The two standout performances for me were Joel Altherr as Dr. Treves and Russ Ivey as John Merrick.

Dr. Treves engaged me from the start. He was both believable and captivating, and knew just how much to put out there, without overacting. I especially enjoyed the emotions that were magnified during his final monologue. He definitely touched me and held my attention throughout the show (which is hard to do).

The actual physical portrayal of John Merrick was amazing. I wasn’t sure how it would be pulled off without a mask or costume of some sort, but I was mesmerized by the character immediately and felt his pain throughout the show. The physical part of this role was so essential to the entire show and Russ Ivey did not disappoint.

I also enjoyed the character of Ross, played by Josh Ellis. He had great inflection and delivery and was very charismatic. Lisa Riley, playing Mrs. Kendal, managed to inject a bit of sarcastic humor into her role, which was a nice light touch to a serious drama.

I didn’t really understand the Pinhead Girls characters. One had a large tattoo on her back that was rather distracting, but her excellent dance technique did stand out to me. They both played their other roles well, as did the other supporting actors, especially considering they were all playing multiple roles.

I think this is the first time I’ve seen a production “in the round”. It was interesting and seemed to work well, although the set changing was a bit awkward with no curtains to be behind. I’m not sure how else they could have accomplished this though.

Overall, a great show and I would definitely recommend it!
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Two Thumbs Up
by playgoer
Saturday, January 31, 2009
4.5
"The Elephant Man" is not one of my favorite plays. It's written as a series of short scenes, and momentum can easily drain as one scene gives way to the next. Amanda Bahr, as director, has done all she can to provide a smooth flow of action, ensuring that even scene transitions are done in character and with some motivation for characters to leave the scene.

The production is splendidly directed in the round. The action keeps flowing across the stage, and no one side of the audience is significantly cheated or rewarded during any interplay. The particular highlight for the staging in the round is Russ Ivey's transformation into John Merrick, the Elephant Man. At first he stands as himself. Turning slowly in a circle, his body hunches and his face pulls downward on one side, all while Joel Altherr, as Dr. Frederick Treves, describes the physical condition of the Elephant Man. This scene is played back in twisted form in act 2, as John Merrick goes in a large circle around the playing area while Dr. Treves turns and transforms from a twisted ogre into his normal human self. That's stage magic.

Lighting is crucial to the telling of this story, and on opening night some of the cues were a tad tardy, and one corner of the stage failed to have any light during one interchange. This technical aspect will improve during the run, I'm sure, and help in maintaining the momentum the director and actors have striven to provide. The lighting effects themselves were all top-notch.

A drama like "The Elephant Man" rises or falls on the performances of the actors who tell the story. At Rosewater, the cast is strong across the board. Many of the actors play multiple roles, and they provide distinct characterizations for each. My complaints about the acting? Kat Reynolds could play Princess Alexandra as a little older. That's it. She was utterly charming as a Pinhead. Her fellow Pinhead, Amy Tallmadge, used her strong soprano voice to advantage, then shortly thereafter gave a convincing performance as the (supposedly) staunch Nurse Sandwich.

All the smaller roles were played adequately, if not better. Peter Perozzi and Kevin Kreissl were particularly effective as a pair of policemen who save the Elephant Man from an enraged mob. Josh Ellis was equally effective as an upper-class bishop and as John Merrick's crass business partner/shill Ross.

The larger roles all were filled winningly. Jerry Jobe gave a nuanced, beautifully accented take on F. Carr-Gomm (and also took on a Belgian policeman and an imitation of Ross with equally believable accents). Joel Altherr, while not looking as "vanilla" as the character of Dr. Frederick Treves is probably meant to, drove the pace of the play with a powerhouse performance. Lisa Sherouse Riley, as the actress Mrs. Kendal, was blessed with some of the most humorous lines in the show, and added to the humor through her droll delivery.

But the finest performance was Russ Ivey as John Merrick, the Elephant Man. His physicality in the role was stunning, and his acting chops are something to behold. Just an "oh?" from him brought a smile to my face at the sheer perfection of its timing and intonation at that point in the play. His speeches, his grunts and moans, his loud, labored breathing all landed with precision. This is a performance to remember.

Two thumbs up! (Or, rather, one thumb and one bloated, distended, radish-like appendage up!) [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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