This review of The Elephant Man at The Gallery Players was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
The Elephant Man
Written by Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Mark Gallagher
Executive Producer: Mark Harborth
Director of Production: Scott Cally
Production Stage Manager: Katelyn Kocher
Lighting & Video Designer: Heather Crocker
Costume Designer: Joey Haws
Scenic Designer: Matthew S. Crane
Props Designer: Roxanne Goodby
Original Music Composition: Jacob Subotnick
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
The Gallery Players strikes the right note with this production of the recently successful Broadway revival. The Elephant Man originally premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in London on November 7, 1977. It opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in 1979 where it ran for 916 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Play. A Broadway revival at the Royale Theatre in April 2002 ran for 57 performances. A 13-week run of The Elephant Man starring Bradley Cooper opened at the Booth Theatre on December 7, 2014, earning Cooper, who appeared as John Merrick, a Tony nomination for Best Actor. The story is based on the life of Joseph Merrick, referred to in the script as John Merrick, who lived in the Victorian Era and was known for the extreme deformity of his body. The role of John Merrick in the play is a challenging and emotional one as the actor is tasked with contorting his body, throwing his voice, and delving into a character whose deformities have left him devoid of meaningful human contact. M. Rowan Meyer excels in the role, shining amongst an impressive cast.
The Elephant Man, John Merrick, a horribly disfigured man, was found by Frederick Treves, a promising young doctor, at a freak show. Adam Unze was simply awesome as this internally torn individual who finds himself both Merrick's only champion and protector but also put into a morally compromising position by the fame Merrick later gains (for both Treves and himself). After enduring being cast out and savagely beaten, Merrick is eventually reunited with Treves and after a successful fundraising campaign is allowed to live a life of comparable peace in the London Hospital with Treves as caretaker.
Dr. Treves has difficulty finding someone who will assist in helping him take care of Merrick who despite being cleaned up, even scares off a nurse who has worked with plague victims across the world. It is up to the wonderful, loving actress, Mrs. Kendal, brought to life by the equally talented real-life actress, Elisabeth Preston, to bond with Merrick. This is really where the emotional toll of the earlier sequences of the play develop further as Preston, Merrick, and Kendal pontificate on the construction of identity, the search for meaning in life, and the stark reality of Merrick's impossible search for normalcy. Perhaps most moving is Merrick's discussion of selflessness and love as he contemplates his own loneliness compared to the vanity of youth in Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Eventually, the story comes full circle with the unavoidable death of Merrick in 1890, only four years after his return to the hospital. The afflictions he has borne since birth eventually kill him through suffocation as his head collapses his neck.
The three actors already mentioned were supported by the talented group of Daniel Damiano, Alfred Gingold, Christopher Romero Wilson, Brooke DeAnna Robinson, and Jesi Mullens. Most memorable of these characters is, in my opinion, Gingold's representation of Francis Carr-Gomm, Treves' employer, the chairman of the London Hospital. Carr-Gomm is such a key character at every moment that he joins the stage because he appears at key turning points and simultaneously creates a perspective of respect for life and contriteness about death. Despite these positive attributes (including his having led the fundraising campaign that allowed John Merrick to live out his days in the safe environment of the London Hospital), the cast, during the after show talk-back, gave him (the character) a hard time for his efficient (though not emotional) letter written on behalf of Merrick after his death. I am not certain I understood their perspective, but Gingold plays the role well.
If you get a chance to see this or any play put on by The Gallery Players, I am sure you will enjoy it. Tickets, $30.00 for adults, and $20.00 for seniors/students can be purchased online at http://galleryplayers.com/box-office/ or by calling 212-352-3101.