Theater Review: The Elephant Man Is a Theatrical Autopsy of Victorian England's Selective Morals | Arts
Arts
INDY Week's arts blog

Archives | RSS | Follow on

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Theater Review: The Elephant Man Is a Theatrical Autopsy of Victorian England's Selective Morals

Posted by on Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 4:32 PM

click to enlarge The cast of The Elephant Man - PHOTO BY STEPHEN J. LARSON
  • photo by Stephen J. Larson
  • The cast of The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man
★★★
Theatre in the Park, Raleigh
Through April 24


Perhaps the subject’s medical nature had something to do with it, but by the end of the first act of The Elephant Man at Theatre in the Park, I’d concluded it was a theatrical autopsy that stripped the title character's tale to its bones, until the last act more fully fleshed it out.

It vexed me enough to send me back to Bernard Pomerance’s Tony Award-winning script from 1977—where I found skeletal scenes and underdeveloped characters, hobbled by exposition, throughout Act One. It’s hard to fault director Ira David Wood III for brusquely forging through such territory where he does not overcome its flaws.

There are gratifying exceptions, as when Wood’s son, Ira David Wood IV, gradually contorts his half-nude frame into the physical malformations of Joseph Merrick (erroneously named "John" by Pomerance) while his attending doctor, Frederick Treves (Wood III), narrates a report on his condition. I savored robust moments when actor Randall Stanton convincingly wheedled his way through the role of Merrick’s unsavory freak-show “manager,” Ross.

But this show’s true rewards lie in Act Two, as Wood IV and Wood III engage in Pomerance’s debate on the selective morals of Victorian England. Though stage veteran Lynda Clark is far beyond the historical age of Mrs. Kendal, a stage actor who provides Merrick entrée into royalty and London society, she brings her trademark crispness to the role.

Supporting actors were uneven, with brief but notable stands by Jim O’Brien as a sideshow manager, Bob Harris as Lord John, and Emily Compton as Princess Alexandra. But Wood III effectively probes Treves’s character as he turns toward the dark at the end, finding in Merrick’s worsening condition and deformities an unexpected mirror of his society.

Unfortunately for the doctor, and us, the final lesson here is grim. Diagnosing a culture’s pathologies is one thing. Curing them, we learn, is quite another.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Arts



Twitter Activity

Comments

I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

by Perry on As the Durham Bulls Enter the Playoffs, We Wonder: What Exactly Is the Value of a Minor-League Championship? (Arts)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

Nice write up. Love the twists and turns and I hardily agree with the ultimate statement (and Camus since I …

by Perry on As the Durham Bulls Enter the Playoffs, We Wonder: What Exactly Is the Value of a Minor-League Championship? (Arts)

Just saw this last night. Did Rubin say that being around the Avetts would make life "matter" or just that …

by Drew Rhys on Full Frame: An Avetts Agnostic Finds Some Faith in May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers (Arts)

She made me a peanut butter and banana sandwichwithout bread. Now that's art.

by Geoff Dunkak on ADF Review: Queering Objects and Decoding the Body in Cherdonna's Clock that Mug or Dusted (Arts)

Maybe the lack of young people in attendance is partly because of the way the NC Gay and Lesbian Film …

by Jonathan H on A Twenty-One-Year-Old Finds a Welcoming Space at the Twenty-Two-Year-Old N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Arts)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation