The Elephant Man

In his very romantic and even sentimental Tony-award-winning 1979 play, Bernard Pomerance challenges our presumptions as to where monstrosity resides. A scientist named Treves, portrayed by Andrew Matthews with bright-eyed, bow-tied self-assurance, presumes he understands the entirety of a situation he simply does not, when he rescues the pathologically deformed John Merrick (Daniel Reichert) from a carnival freak show in Victorian London. Director John Demita stages the nine-member ensemble on the tiny almost bare stage around a trio of portable, translucent screens, like hospital screens, which come to represent the thin veneer of privacy in the hospital clinic where Merrick spends his final days. (Set designed by Steven Markus.) True to the Broadway staging, and in direct contrast to David Lynch's 1980 movie, the monstrosity of Merrick's condition is revealed without a spec of makeup or any plastic-cloth constructions. Rather, Reichert contorts his body, down to the fused fingers we hear about in the dialogue and see in projected photographs. Pomerance's Merrick is a tortured angel, something of a prophet. The production is meticulously acted, with superb performances also by Abbey Craden as an actress who captures Merrick's heart, by Norman Snow as hospital administrator Carr Gomm, by Brian George doubling as Merrick's carney-barker patron-thief, as well as a local Bishop. I wish it weren't so staid. The director introduces his ensemble with the promising tones of a Street Violinist (Max Quill), and a juggler (Aandrea Reblynn), who returns to show how Treves' attempts to sustain funding for a ward are a juggling act, yet the show doesn't quite push beyond the tone of the clinic where its action finally settles — despite Kim DeShazo Wilkinson's lush and colorful costumes. Andak Stage Company at the New Place Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove Street, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 21. (866) 811-4111.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: May 16. Continues through June 21, 2009

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