The Elephant Man
by Corona Del Mar Theatre
Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man offers us glimpses into the last years of Joseph “John” Merrick who suffered from severe deformities from birth. His nightmarish life of being abused and treated like a freak, gawked at by carnival crowds and chased down by a taunting mob at Liverpool Station, finds a ray of hope when Dr. Frederick Treves comes across him. Dr. Treves wants to study John and manages to get public funding to support Mr. Merrick with room and board. John Merrick’s new life has begun, but it will be a brief one with mixed blessings, and one from which both John and Dr. Treves will learn much.

Ronald Knight Martin directs this production at Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, California. The pre-show is brilliant, the cast members coming out in turns of small groups like casual visitors to a sideshow, staring at the audience with everything from wonder to disgust, verbally and nonverbally noting various aspects of our appearance with differing levels of subtlety or harshness, making us feel just the slightest glimmer of what Merrick suffered throughout his life.

And then the play begins. We are introduced to John’s condition as doctors examine the disfigured silhouette on a hospital curtain. The chillingly clinical diagnosis informs us that the only unaffected part of John’s body is his left arm and hand. His right arm is deformed, his right hand a flipper. His enlarged skull makes his neck unable to support his heavy head in a normal sleeping position. His skin is diseased and smells. His disfigured hip and club foot leaves him unable to escape his tormenters.

The play is broken into many small scenes, which makes much of it feel a bit episodic, but the script gets smoother and build more dramatically in the second act. It largely explores the relationship between John and Dr. Treves, and what they both learn from John’s new life among the more affluent and “civilized” society. As John Merrick, Ben Carlson is gentle and sensitive, his reaction to his new life full of curiosity and gratitude. He’s clearly been hurt by hate and cruelty his entire life, and he is calm in the face of continued cruelty, but he doesn’t shy away from describing his observations to his doctor, who is a strange combination of friend and scientific observer. Rich Posert delivers a strong performance as the fairly green doctor who has an instinct to help, but struggles with social skills of his own, and doesn’t quite know how to handle the challenging case he’s brought into his life, resulting in a very well done dream sequence as Dr. Treves does some soul searching.

Elsewhere, Calli Conti turns in a touching performance as Mrs. Kendall, an actress who becomes John’s closest friend. The two of them have a nice, genuine rapport. The rest of the cast offer us glimpses into how society looks upon John, from a horrified nurse (Sienna Petree) to the upper crust of society and the lowest heels of society including the cruel pinheads who haunt John until the powerfully performed night of his death.

Performs November 12 - 21, 2009

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Carr Gomm: Matt Funsten
Fredrick Treves: Rich Posert
Ross: Daniel Flaxman
Doctor/Policeman/Will: Kevin Hoffman
Pinhead/Countess: Sarah Schulte
Pinhead/Dream Doctor: Chanel Lucia
Pinhead: Melissa Mooney
John Merrick: Ben Carlson
Policeman/Lord John: James Conger
Conductor/Snork: Shane Somerville
Nurse Sandwich/Princess Alexandra: Sienna Petree
Bishop Walsham How: Jason Dillion
Mrs. Kendall: Calli Conti
Duchess: Heather Shields

Producer/Director: Ronald Knight Martin
Stage Manager: Kaylyn Nese
Assistant Stage Manager: Carlie Rinehart
House Manager: Amanda Stephenson
Assistant House Manager: David Pisors
Dialect Coach: Alyssa Evans
Art Work: Lisa Cermack
Church Model: Andy and Shane Somerville
Lighting Technician: Carla Vigueras
Sound Technician: Jared Bangaru
Assistant Sound Technician: Sarah Yoo
Grips: Alysha Kundanmal and Jeff Dyess


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