BWW Reviews: THE ELEPHANT MAN from STAGEright Spotlights All Kinds of Freak Shows
We all love to gawk at things different from what we call "normal". The internet is full of such things. Hell, one might even view our love of theater as such as it's a window into the lives of others. And that's the focus of Bernard Pomerance's stirring play, "The Elephant Man", as we view a freak show from all angles. And while STAGEright's production has some outstanding moments, at times it feels a little too ambitious for the company and the space.
John Merrick's (Matthew Gilbert) deformities may have made him an oddity and an outcast but they also eventually turned him into the celebrated darling of the London elite in the late 1800's. And it's that transition from one freak show to another that makes his life, as well as Pomerance's play, so fascinating. True the taking in of Merrick by respected physician Frederick Teves (Brian Lange) and the London aristocracy sounds like charity but, as the play points out, it really just takes him to a higher class of gawkers coming to see the freak. But even though his life amounted to no more than an attraction he managed to keep a quite thoughtful and truthful outlook.
STAGEright's production as directed by Robert Bogue and more specifically Gilbert's portrayal definitely show the more intelligent and human side of the man and keep the sympathy square on his crooked shoulders. Gilbert turns in a stunningly focused performance with some beautiful nuances and practically disappears into the role. It would be easy for an actor to lose himself in the piece and take the physical and vocal challenges too far but Gilbert walks that fine line well and never ventures into the realm of camp or mockery. Lange delivers his usual wonderful performance as Merrick's would be savior but I feel lacked a bit of transition from Teves at the beginning piece to the much changed Teves at the end. Michael Ramquist as the hospital administrator Carr Gomm shows off some fantastic moments, specifically his transformative and table turning dream sequence between him, Merrick and Teves. And Lorrie Fargo as the one true friend of Merrick's, Mrs. Kendal, lends a beautiful emotional honesty and realism to the play.
But while the leads managed to keep the story engaging, along with some lovely musical live underscoring by Roland Carette-Meyers, I felt that there were some elements and opportunities that were just plain missed. Plus the amount of set changes and locations in such an intimate space came across as awkward and long winded. Now, I'm sure those changes will be ironed out as the show goes along but at times it felt like they were trying to do too much.
All in all a fine show with some solid performances and just a few drawbacks but still a good chance to go and gawk at the freaks (whoever you feel they may be). And with my three letter rating system I give this one a MEH+.
"The Elephant Man" from STAGEright performs at the LAB@Inscape through March 22nd. For tickets or information visit STAGEright online at www.seattlestageright.org.