Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Centreville High School The Elephant Man

By • May 4th, 2009 • Category: Cappies

The shadowed profile up an upright man appeared on stage and was quickly contorted into a painful stoop; it was the form of the elephant man. The Elephant Man was recently performed by Centreville High School in Clifton, Virginia. The cast faced the difficult issues of how “freaks” are seen in society and how some people are willing to publicly humiliate these poor souls for their own gain.

The Elephant Man, a Tony Award winning play written by Bernard Pomerance in 1979, is based upon the life of a man living in England in the late 1800s. In the play this man is named John Merrick, although there is a debate on whether is name was Joseph, who suffered from horrible facial and body malformations.

Centreville High School’s performance was driven by the visual strength of each scene. The opening array of side show freaks, each trying to draw circus goers to come see them started the show with excitement. The ever moving Queens of the Congo showed the contrast between the harsh realities of circus life with the final performance seen by the public. The dream sequence, with its myriad of lights and the reversal of roles between John and his doctor entranced the audience and showed a hidden side to both characters. Throughout the show, the stage seemed as if it were a postcard, with snapshot images that could tell a story within themselves.

Steve Beldin, playing John Merrick, showed excellent physicality, giving the illusion of deformity by contorting his body and face and maintaining the contortions consistently throughout the show. Belden’s character also had strong vocalization and diction, speaking only out of one side of his contorted mouth, creating a speech impediment. Belden had strong relationships with every character he came in contact with, especially Mrs. Kendal, played by Annie Paradis, an actress hired by the doctor to help Merrick have some sense of normal society.

The technical elements of the play added greatly to the atmosphere. The music and sound effects helped the transitions and set the mood of nineteenth century England. The lights gave interesting effects, especially in the dream sequence. Some of the scenes would have benefited from brighter lighting, especially at the circus when the brightly colored costumes would have been much more effective. The sets had a balance between minimalist and realist that added greatly to the show and the use of the stage’s turntable helped to create the enclosed atmosphere that John Merrick was bound to throughout most of his life.

Centreville’s cast of The Elephant Man took on the difficult social question of how someone so different can fit into society. A complex show for any age, this high school cast was able to do justice to a still-disputed case.

by Alicia Mau of Yorktown High School

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