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CCT with 2nd Flight Theatre Company The Elephant Man

By • Oct 30th, 2008 • Category: Reviews
The Elephant Man
CCT with 2nd Flight Theatre Company
NVCC-Loudoun Campus, Sterling, VA
$15/$10 Seniors and Students
Through November 8th

This is the Show Biz Radio review of The Elephant Man, performed by CCT with 2nd Flight Theatre Company, at the NoVa Community College, Loudon campus, in Sterling, Virginia. We saw the performance on Sunday evening, October 26th, 2008.

The Elephant Man is a drama written by Bernard Pomerance. The Elephant Man is based on the life of John Merrick, who lived in London during the latter part of the nineteenth century. A horribly deformed young man, who has been a freak attraction in traveling side shows, is found abandoned and helpless and is admitted for observation to Whitechapel, a prestigious London Hospital. Under the care of a famous young doctor, who educates him and introduces him to London society, Merrick changes from a sensational object of pity to the urbane and witty favorite of the aristocracy and literati. But his belief that he can become a man like any other is a dream never to be realized.

This historical drama was very well acted by a large cast, was engaging and awakened our desire to do more research on the life of John Merrick. The portions of Merrick’s life presented in The Elephant Man was a small window into who he really was.

Hans Dettmar played the physically challenging role of John Merrick. The show opens with Merrick offstage, and the barker Ross (Jay Tilley) trying to get customers to the side show. We are formally introduced to Merrick when Dr. Treves describes Merrick’s deformities. The scene began with Dettmar simply standing on stage shirtless, with his arms held straight out to the side. Then as Treves described each problem, Dettmar contorted his body, limbs, and face to match the description. The transformation was remarkable, and Dettmar stayed in those positions throughout the rest of the play. No makeup or prostheses were used. Dettmar did an excellent job sharing Merrick’s spirit that came out in his speeches, and even though he was occasionally a little hard to understand, his meaning was quite clear.

The doctor who brought Merrick to live in the hospital was Dr. Frederick Treves, played by Stephen Smith. Smith was required to convey many different emotions throughout the play, from the compassion of a doctor, to anger with Mrs. Kendall, and regret and sorrow, which he did admirably and convincingly.

One of John Merrick’s few friends was Mrs. Kendall, played with tenderness by Alyssa Jacobsen. Jacobsen was very believable. Her awkward scene when she was first introduced to Merrick was handled with humor, but compassion. The scene was not rushed, but slight pauses in their conversation helped pull the audience into the scene as they hoped a friendship would develop.

The set was fairly basic, with a raised platform and a staircase. There were a few set pieces that were moved onto the stage to represent Merrick’s room at the hospital. The simple set allowed for the audience to focus on the characters, and helped set the tone of the show. The Set Designer was Rick Wilson.

The Elephant Man ran two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. It is playing through Saturday November 8, Friday and Saturdays at 8 and Sunday the 2nd at 7 pm at the Waddell Theatre on the NoVa Loudoun campus in Sterling, Virginia.

Once you’ve seen the show, please feel free to leave a comment here on our website at ShowBiz Radio.net. We’d also like to invite you to join our free mailing list so you can stay informed with theater events in the DC Region.

And now, on with the show.

Director’s Notes

“All societies had some sort of entertainment. How did it start? Why? What functions did it serve? I think the answer is that it is some form of social memory. It serves to bring back points that are too volatile, too dangerous to be lived everyday—the skeletons in the closet, the guilt.” Bernard Pomerance, NY Times, February 4, 1979

When asked what drew him to the story of Joseph Merrick, Pomerance can’t narrow it down to one element. He was first introduced to the story of Merrick by his brother following a visit to the London Hospital museum. “I’m still not sure what I saw it in then, I find it hard to express myself outside the play. Perhaps the fact of his being rejected by one society but accepted by another.” (Owen, NY Times, February 4, 1979). Pomerance considers himself American born but has loyalties to England. Additionally, historical events in both England and the United States influenced Pomerance’s views within the play.

The 1970’s found the Western world devastated by unemployment, inflated prices, debt and a large economic depression. Furthermore, the Vietnam War created distrust among people towards their government. This was the opposite of the Victorian era, where individuals had great trust and faith in their leaders. For Victorian high society, theatre was seen as purely a form of entertainment, whereas in the 1970’s, many playwrights wanted their plays to illustrate a strong political message. “If a play was not thought-provoking for the audience, they believed, then it had not served its purpose,” Pomerance agreed in the earlier-cited NY Times article, “Mostly theater is untrue. So much of it is full of the most limited, self-seeking adolescent vices and just not true.” The ideas of Bertolt Brecht were embraced by playwrights. Brecht’s alienation effect asked audiences to think about what they were seeing and it asked playwrights to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. These ideas are evident in The Elephant Man: twenty-one scenes illustrate scenes from Merrick’s life. It does not follow the traditional unities of Aristotle’s Poetics of time and place. Pomerance also requests, in the stage directions, that the actor portraying Merrick is to wear no grotesque makeup. “This forces the audience to become part of the play; they must use their imagination without the aid of costumes or makeup that would make it easier for them to immediately empathize with Merrick. Instead, the audience is forced to see the character of the man instead of his deformities.”

How the world viewed the mentally and physically challenged shifted dramatically in the 1970’s. People were less fearful of those who were different, due to an increased education on the subject. For example, The Independent Living Monument was founded in Berkeley, CA, which provided opportunities for individuals with special needs to live and work on their own. The Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1976 created environments for individuals with special needs to be mainstreamed within the public school setting. Therefore, people like Joseph Merrick no longer had to depend solely on others for survival. In the Victorian era, “particularly, the deformed and deranged were kept out of sight because it was feared that they might upset upper-class Victorian women who were believed to be sheltered and easily shocked.”

Even in these enlightened times, however, those with extreme deformities tend to remain out of sight, though they may no longer be required to do so. Their career options are limited only by their particular skills and abilities. Yet they are certainly not a part of the mainstream. Pomerance’s play asks us to look beyond the physical appearance and see the man beneath. One by one, perhaps each of us can learn to do so. Only in this way can we ever hope to achieve the dream of a society truly accepting of all people.

Cast

  • Ringmaster/Announcer: Asher Miller
  • Frederick Treves: Stephen Smith
  • Carr Gomm: Tim Griffin
  • Ross: Jay Tilley
  • John Merrick: Hans Detmar
  • The Voice: Wayne Jacques
  • Pinhead Manager: Eric Garner
  • Pinheads: Laura Moody, Kara Succolosky, Kayla Waitt
  • Belgian Policeman: Wayne Jacques
  • Conductor: David Saunders
  • London Policeman: Eric Garner
  • Nurse Ireland: Kyla Waitt
  • Miss Sandwich: Robin Zerbe
  • Will, Porter at the London Hospital: David Saunders
  • Bishop Walsham How: Phillip Archey
  • Snork, porter at the London Hospital: Wayne Jacques
  • Mrs. Kendal: Alyssa Jacobsen
  • Duchess: Kara Succolosky
  • Countess: Kayla Waitt
  • Lord John: Eric Garner
  • Princess Alexandra: Natalie Holmes
  • Lobby Freak Show: Vicky Alvarez, Robby Carmak, Allen Ernst, Jared McJunkin, Asher Miller, Amy Pfaff, Abbi Shank, Joy Walker

Crew

  • Producer: Theresa Bender
  • Director/Set Design: Natalie V. Safely
  • Stage Manager: Christy Jacobs
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Lillian Colquitt
  • Technical Director/Master Carpenter/Set Design: Rick Wilson
  • Set Construction/Painting: Phillip Archey, Lesh Aspell, Jeff Bender, Theresa Bender, Kai Betty, Earl Boatman, Mary Boatman, Marlo Corpuz, Samantha Ellis, Allen Ernst, Erica Garcia, Brian Garrison, Wayne Jacques, Eunmee Johnson, Trvor Johnston, Jared McJunkin, Clint Miller, Ben Porter, Natalie Safely, Michael Schaaf, Abbi Shank, Christine Spata, Mary Speed, Jill Tunick, Joy Walker, Robin Zerbe
  • Lighting Design: Brandon Belote
  • Sound Design: Ben Allen
  • Light Board Operator: Earl Boatman
  • Sound Board Operator: Jeff Bender
  • Lighting Crew: Phil Arhey, Brandon Belote, Theresa Bender, Kai Betty, Earl Boatman, Natalie Safley, Greg Scali
  • Costume Design: Susan LaFiandra Reid
  • Costuming Assistant: Laura Moody
  • Costume Crew: Samantha Ellis, Bethany Jurashek, Kirima Stewart
  • Props/Set Dressing: Michael Schaaff, Brian Garrison
  • Publicity: Leah Aspell, Jill Tunick
  • Publicity Crew: Vicky lvarez, Clint Miller, Ljubica Miller, Katy Peterson
  • Hair and Makeup Design: Emma Keller, Christina Karam
  • Run Crew: Lillian Colquuitt, Michael Schaaff, Brian Garrison
  • Dialect Coach: Carol Strachen
  • Fight Choreography: Phillip Archey
  • House/Box Office Manager: Chris Blake
  • House Staff: Samanth Ellis, Erica Garcia, Jon Heselton, Eunmee Johnson, Erin King, Kevin King, Ian Kitchens, Tzachi Lozamo, Rhianna Meko, Jeffrey Miller, Tess Nichols, Katy Peterson, Matthew Randll, Michael Schaaff
  • Poster Design: Nick Arey
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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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