The Elephant Man, Gallery Players, Saturday, October 28, 2017 (review)
Males believe that one day they will be regarded with dignity as men. This is not, however, a given. Bernard Pomerance’s 1977 biographical thriller, “The Elephant Man,” delves into this dilemma. In freak shows, John Merrick, a deformed young man suffering from skin and bone disorder, is the main attraction. After being found lost, he is admitted to the Whitechapel Hospital. The fact that he becomes a favorite of London’s upper crust is not enough to make him a man. I detect irony in this story, as a commoner would not be subjected to such discrimination. The drab, freak show is puny and consistent with the irony of the story. Jack Subotnick’s music is subdued, but the likable ensemble appeals to reason within the audience. Theatre lovers should find this Off-Broadway transfer, a representation of the life of Merrick
Katelyn Kocher’s stage is bare to the minimum with scenic designer’s Matthew S. Crane’s apparently ‘ruined’ columns that take one back into time. Heather Crolcker’s lighting is unique and distinguishes scenes and contrasts the characters lives. The life of the ‘Elephant Man’ is seen mainly through three main actors. These are John Merrick (M. Rowan Meyer), Mrs. Kendal (Elisabeth Preston), and Dr. Frederick Treves (Adam Unze).
Mark Gallagher directs this Gallery Players Production in a manner that is so thoughtful and eloquent that one is compelled to ask themselves moral and ethical questions. A dull, old, brown curtain serves to allow changing of scenes. A photo of the real elephant man appears is on the curtain. When light illuminates both the painting and Merrick, the unusual features on the picture and the real person on the stage continue to gnaw our minds.
The concert hall ensures that the audience focuses on the action. Nonetheless, the simple props by Roxanne Goodby make actors scuttle across the stage every time a scene change is necessary. Special effects make this drama worth watching. The ‘Elephant Man’s, bare-chested, bare legged, lopsided, hunched shoulders and twisted mouth is dramatic yet non-distracting.
M. Rowan Meyer is poignantand without pride despite his star role. Once Dr. Fredrick Treves saves him from an eternity on the freak show, Meyer shows the real person behind the disfigurement. He presents Merrick as humorous and loving and expertly avoids overstatement. His English is impeccable as compared to the rest. Slowly and convincingly, he utters, ‘…I think my head is so big because it is full of dreams.’Adam Unze (Dr. Treves) is a true Victorian. He acts both rationally and emotionally, and faces a dilemma on whether to save Merrick or use him in his experiments whose ‘aim for him is to lead as normal a life as possible.’ Elisabeth Preston, (Mrs. Kendal) puts aside her fear of being friends with Merrick. The actress courageously unbuttons herself for him to see her bosom. Preston is the face of hope where there is despair.
Benard Pomerance’s play is intended to prick our moral conscience. The use of a sick and disabled person in a freak show is evidence of moral lack and an ethical dilemma. Mark Gallagher strives to present this story as intended by the author by casting competent actors a good set. He manages to both preserve the story and helps us to ask ourselves questions about where we have gone wrong and how we can rectify that.
This play compares with ‘Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ train’ as the two present moral and ethical dilemmas – lack of real freedom for Angel, Lucius, and Merrick without satisfactory answers. The stage type for the two shows was concert hall. Both are Off-Broadway transfers.
They however contrast in terms of setting and action. Whereas the former is action-packed and set in Rikers Prison with ‘freedom’ to use profanity-laden language consistently, the later is rather dull and set in the ‘free world’ where there is decorum that’ restrains’ individuals who appear different like ‘The Elephant Man’ from realizing themselves fully.
Guirgis, S. (2002). Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ train. New York: Dramatists Play Service.
Guirgis, S. A. (Writer), & Brokaw, M. (Director). (2017, October 21). Jesus Hopped the “A” train. Live performance in The Pershing Square Signature Center, New York.
Pomerance, B. (2007). Elephant Man. New York: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Pomerance, B. (Writer), & Gallagher, M. (Director). (2017, October 28). The Elephant Man. Live performance in The Park Slope Theater, New York.