BWW REVIEW: 'THE ELEPHANT MAN' COMES IN FROM THE COLD AT NEW REP
Written by Bernard Pomerance; directed by Jim Petosa; scenic designer, Jon Savage; costume designer, Molly Trainer; lighting designer, Daniel MacLean Wagner; sound designer, David Reiffel; production stage manager, Kevin Schlagle
Cast in alphabetical order:
Esme Allen, Pinhead, Miss Sandwich, Princess Alexandra; Joel Colodner, Ross, Bishop Walsham How, Snork; Russell Garrett, Carr Gomm, Conductor; Michael Kaye, Frederick Treves, Belgian Policeman; Valerie Leonard, Mrs. Kendal, Pinhead; Ross MacDonald, Pinhead Manager, London Policeman, Will, Lord John; Tim Spears, John Merrick; Louis Toth, Oboist
Performances and Tickets:
Now through September 29, New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, Mass.; tickets available online at www.newrep.org or by calling the Box Office at 617-923-8487It's a cold, dark world that New Repertory Theatre artistic director Jim Petosa and company have created for The Elephant Man, Bernard Pomerance's Tony Award-winning play based on the true-life story of London's most famous sideshow freak, the horribly deformed John (Joseph) Merrick. From the seedy streets and workhouses of Dickensian London to the antiseptic halls of the London Hospital wherein Merrick found refuge for a few short years, the austerity is unrelenting.
The set is severe and painted pitch black. Floor-to-ceiling windows framed in lead and stained in soot slide in and out like the doors of a prison cell. The most prominent - and ever present - piece of furniture is a rough-hewn black box that looks eerily like a coffin.
While this imposing tone is effective in establishing the abusive conditions in which the orphaned Merrick grew up, it remains a bit too oppressive once Merrick finds a home at The London. A real bed, a few pillows, a blanket, and some personal belongings would go a long way toward suggesting the modest comfort he now enjoys, even if it is in a hospital garret.That comfort comes primarily through the grace of Dr. Frederick Treves (Michael Kaye), a young rising star in the medical field who discovers Merrick (Tim Spears) on display in a nearby sideshow. Fascinated by his deformities, Treves brings Merrick to the hospital to examine and photograph him, and to use him as the subject of a lecture for medical students. Later, when Merrick is beaten, robbed and abandoned in Brussels by his touring manager Ross (Joel Colodner), police discover him and, failing to understand what he is saying, return him to The London because they find Treves' business card in his coat pocket.
Initially Treves maintains a clinical distance from Merrick, considering him a patient and a subject for study. As he comes to know the beauty within the beast, however, he realizes that Merrick is sensitive, intelligent, artistic, and inquisitive. Soon he seeks companionship for Merrick and enlists the renowned actress Mrs. Kendal (Valerie Leonard) to bring him news of the outside world and engage him in social conversation. She becomes captivated by him and immediately proceeds to round up an entourage of ladies and gentlemen from London's high society, including Alexandra, Princess of Wales, to become his visitors and benefactors. They effusively bestow upon Merrick many gifts and much kindness. Yet, their somewhat self-serving magnanimity is not unlike the cruel curiosity of his former sideshow gawkers. Their charity, although merciful, ultimately makes them feel better about themselves.