Review of The Elephant Man
By Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Michael Tabib
For tickets / schedule :
Curtain Call Theatre
Russian River Hall, Monte Rio
Tickets: $20, $15 Students / Seniors 60+
RUN: September 1-23, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars
(September 9, 2017)
Finding humanity in those who are radically divergent is a struggle for society; if someone looks or acts differently from what we are used to, it challenges our comfort zone. Historically it has been difficult to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and respected equally, as recent news attests to. With the severely disfigured “elephant man” it is easy to react with fear, revulsion, or pity, rather than recognizing him as an intelligent equal worthy of normal attention and dignity.
Loosely based on the life of Joseph Carey Merrick, who is known as John in the play, it takes place in 1884-1890. Curtain Call Theatre’s stark scenic design allows the actors to become the main focus, rather than an elaborate Victorian setting, utilizing chilling black and white projections by Bill Young as a backdrop.
John Merrick’s deformities are not recreated with makeup or illusion; it is entirely on the shoulders of James Rowan’s strength as an actor to bring the audience into Merrick’s world, which he confidently succeeds in. This difficult role is not only physically daunting, with specific facial contortions, arm weight, and shuffling limp, but emotionally draining as the character experiences heartbreak, joy, despair, and love over the course of the evening. Rowan is absolutely invested, deeply connecting with the audience who feels the journey with him.
Rustling in luxurious satin, Yelena Segal is Mrs. Kendall, the down-to-earth actress who is able to see the real Merrick. Her tenderness and open friendship revolutionize his life as she goes to extreme lengths ensuring that he does not miss important moments. Lew Brown’s Frederick Treves captures the quiet suffering of a successful doctor who is adrift when it comes to managing his personal affairs, caught up in reconciling a keen scientific mind with the archaic moral values of the culture he resides in. The nightmare sequence in act two is riveting and a cruelly accurate examination of the idealized male during that time period.
The Elephant Man from Curtain Call Theatre confronts our perceptions with heartfelt awareness that external features do not reflect the soul and personality within; if we run away like the terrified nurse, refusing to encounter the “other” it is a mistake. Instead, reaching out to discover the unique contributions of each person shapes a compassionate, creative environment where men like Merrick are accepted and able to thrive.
Company photographer: Dave Hall Photography