While the text of the play itself may not be everyone’s cup of tea, The Elephant Man is a tender story that is rich with characterization, and it is not an easy play to tackle. Without strong actors in the main roles, the production could quickly lose its audience.
Georgia Ensemble Theatre has staged a note-worthy production that rises to the challenge and produces a captivating and touching story of the famous disfigured man taken under the care of an English doctor.
Based on the true story of John Merrick who suffered a physical deformity, the drama begins at a where he was on display. After the show closes, he returns to London. A doctor, Frederick Treves, takes him to London Hospital where he is allowed to live, safe from the public who fears him. Bound by Victorian traditions, Frederick does what he can to help John feel like he is living a normal life. Only John’s life is far from normal, and he longs to know how it would be like to have a life like everyone else.
Under the remarkable direction of David Crowe, the cast hits its stride in fine fashion, with a few actors playing multiple roles seamlessly. But it is the two leads that stand out among the others.
In one of the most challenging roles, Jonathan Horne makes taking on the disfigurement of John Merrick look easy. From the moment he begins to contort his body, he never lets up. Not only does he physically transform into the character, but he also does it without the aid of makeup. He creates a humble, likeable character that immediately draws on the audience’s empathy. Likewise, Sam Ross provides a strong take on the doctor Frederick Treves, who while fascinated by John Merrick’s condition, deeply cares about his well being.
Designed by Phillip Male, the set works well to tell the story as does the lighting design by Bryan Rosengrant. In addition, the costume design by Linda Patterson helps to transport the audience to Victorian England.
Whether you like the play or not, no one can argue the merits of this moving and splendid production. The Elephant Man plays at Georgia Ensemble Theatre through November 16, 2014. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is around two and half hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton