"The Elephant Man" at Prime Stage Theatre | Program Notes

"The Elephant Man" at Prime Stage Theatre

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A few notes about this fine production, which closed last weekend after a two-week run at the New Hazlett.

One, those who knew the story of John Merrick only from the 1980 film version might have been surprised to find that the actor playing the tragically deformed title character doesn’t don any sort of prosthetic, or even special makeup; he simply contorts himself, and slightly slurs his speech, to suggest those deformities. 

It’s quite a challenge, and as CP’s Robert Isenberg emphasized in his glowing review of this production, Sean Sears, as Merrick, was completely up to the task. (That’s Sears at right in the photo, with Justin Fortunateo and Maggie Ryan).

Second, the play itself, by Bernard Pomerance, is very good. (The well-regarded Elephant Man film, directed by David Lynch and starring John Hurt as Merrick, is not based on the play.)

Set in 1880s London, it finds Merrick contrasted — and compared — with Frederick Treves, the successful young surgeon who rescued him from a life as a sideshow attraction. There is much interesting talk of religion and science, though for me the more compelling themes include an exploration of whether Merrick, ensconced in comfort in a hospital and treated like a celebrity, is ever really accepted as a person, or simply the main attraction in a higher-class sideshow.

It’s a theme emphasized smartly by both Richard Keitel’s direction and Johnmichael Bohach’s set: The action, for instance, scarcely leaves a playing area that we first see used as a circus ring.

Finally, I’ll risk repeating a blog post from last March. As should be obvious from this production, Prime Stage, although its mission is to create theater for young adults, isn’t "children’s theater." In fact, last year’s post was about a solid Prime Staging of The Glass Menagerie, and audiences there are a nice mix of younger folks and post-collegiate types.

Artistic director Wayne Brinda’s troupe makes good theater, period. You might even keep an eye out for its next production, in which Prime Stage digs its roots adapting classic young-adult literature by staging A Wrinkle in Time.

John Glore’s new adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic fantasy novel runs May 11-20, also at the New Hazlett.

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