The Elephant Man, Bernard Pomerance’s story of John Merrick’s journey from a sideshow freak to a celebrated member of Victorian London’s high society, opens April 13 at Pentacle Theatre.
Merrick was born and died in 1800’s Britain, a young man with severe face and body deformities caused by rare skin and bone diseases. Abandoned by a traveling sideshow in London, he is admitted to London’s prestigious Whitechapel Hospital, where he meets celebrated young physician Frederick Treves.
Under the doctor’s care, Merrick is introduced to London society and slowly evolves from an object of pity to an urbane and witty favorite of the aristocracy and literati. But he is denied his ultimate dream—to become a man like any other.
The Elephant Man is “a beautiful script, poetic and relevant,” says Pentacle’s Executive Director, Lisa Joyce. “Its core message, that the outside of a person does not define a person’s worth, is as timely now as it was in 1979 when the play took Broadway by storm and when Pentacle produced it in 1984.”
One of the play’s key themes, explored with precision and nuance, is exploitation. It’s clear that the people who displayed Merrick in a freak show exploited him. “But [the exploitation] doesn’t end, it just becomes more subtle and insidious,” when he is given a home at the Hospital, Joyce says.
The play relies heavily on the actors who portray John Merrick and Dr. Treves but is at heart an ensemble piece, with each role highlighting an important facet of the play’s arc. The cast includes Pamela Abernethy, Kat Baird, David Ballantyne, David Beldin, Bill Brown, Jordan Campbell-Reyna, Lauren Donovan, Lucas Hill, Taylor Husk, Joyce Kemp, Jordan Mackor, Joe Martin, Casey Mcguire, Matthew Morris, Jane O’Hara, Anthony Redelsperger and Erich Schmidt.
Jo Dodge, who has directed roughly 40 Pentacle productions in about as many years, directs the play. Dodge formerly acted, directed and taught theater in New York, Los Angeles, and Honolulu prior to arriving in Salem. She is a strong proponent of community theatre.
Joyce notes that, “The Elephant Man brilliantly leads the audience to ask, ‘what is the meaning of charity?’ and, ‘When we do good works, are we meeting our own needs instead of those of the people we serve?’”
The answer, she says, “is ambiguous. That’s what makes it great and timeless art.”
At the time of its 1979 US debut, The Elephant Man won numerous awards, including the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, the Tony Award for Best Play and the New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play.
This Pentacle production will be enhanced by original music and a beautiful sound design. The play calls for no prosthetic makeup on the actor playing Merrick.
The Elephant Man
By Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Jo Dodge and assistant director Heathre Powell
April 13 – May 5, with night and evening performances
324 52nd Ave. NW, off Highway 22, about 6 miles west of downtown Salem, Oregon.
Tickets available at Pentacle’s downtown Salem ticket office, 145 Liberty St. NE, at 503-485-4300 or online at www.pentacletheatre.org.
Note: The Elephant Man is recommended for mature middle school, high school and adult patrons.
Contact Pentacle for a more complete content advisory.