AISLE SAY: WDL’s ELEPHANT MAN Compelling Yet Uneven

by Greer Firestone

THE ELEPHANT MAN, the story of John Merrick and physician Frederick Treves, runs at Wilmington Drama League through April 2.

John Merrick was an English man in the late 1800’s with severe deformities who was exhibited as a human curiosity. He began to develop abnormally during the first few years of his life. His skin appeared thick and lumpy, he developed an enlargement of his lips, and a bony lump grew on his forehead. One of his arms and both feet became enlarged and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in permanent lameness. When he was 11, his mother died and his father soon remarried. Rejected by his father and stepmother, he left home. He had no formal education.

His true story is one not of bitterness toward the life thrust on him, but redemption of the soul.

Rookie director Andrew Chambliss fortunately surrounded himself with a few community theatre veterans to produce a drama as variegated as Merrick’s own skull. His pacing was a bit slow. Theatres, to reduce set costs, are employing slides back lit on screens to create the period feel. Chambliss’ choices were good but projecting them on the walls of WDL took away from the action on stage. While I have no doubt the director researched the original novel thoroughly, neither I nor my companion could understand the relevance of the two “Pinhead” girls to the plot.

Merrick (Craig Stump), sans makeup, was excellent in his portrayal; exhibiting anguish, pain, heartbreak and humility. Frederick Treves (Edward Emmi) displayed his character’s hypocrisy with panache and a consistent accent. Mrs. Kendal (Nance Weber) can always be counted on for a strong performance.

by Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Andrew Chambless
March 18 – April 2, 2011
Wilmington Drama Leagure
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE

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