The Elephant Man

By Bernard Pomerancethe elephant man at boho theatre

Directed by June Eubanks

Produced by BoHo Theatre

At Theater Wit, Chicago

“He makes all of us think he is deeply like ourselves. And yet we’re not like each other. I conclude that we have polished him like a mirror, and should hallelujah when he reflect us to the inch. I have grown sorry for it.” –The Elephant Man

“If all those who stared at me were sacked, whole towns would be out of work.” – John Merrick

Powerful docudrama about John Merrick is well staged and acted

Director June Eubanks combines a documentary style with a dramatization to tell John Merrick’s story. Each scene is introduced and the cast double as Foley artists to supplement the production with sound effects. The most remarkable element of this production is the lack of sentimentality as Merrick’s story unfolds.

Told through the words of  Doctor Frederick Treves, The Elephant Man’s story moves from Merrick’s grotesquely disfigured persona that was being exploited at London carnivals to the rescue and comfort of Treves’ home at a London hospital. Merrick (Mike Tepeli in a wonderfully truthful performance) exhibits an intelligent, perceptive and human side that includes emerging sexual needs.

the elephant man at boho theatre

Dr. Treves (a fully nuances turn by Steve O’Connell) is the first to acknowledge Merrick’s humanity and the first to find people to interact judgment free, especially by Mrs. Kendall ( Cameron Feagin).  To me, The Elephant Man is about tolerance for those different in looks from us and for how the Victorian values of British society dictate Treves’ treatment of Merrick.  While Treves is kind and loyal, he is also controlling and determined to force Merrick to live up to Victorian values of morality. He is also determined to not allow Merrick to have the pleasures of sex.

the elephant man at boho theatre

Mike Tepeli plays Merrick’s humanity in a sympathetic yet non-sentimental manner wherein we not only ‘see’ Merrick’s deformity in out mind’s eye but we empathize with his most human urges emerges that includes interaction with people and sensual fulfillment.  The decision to have Tepeli only use body and leg movements to hint at his deformity heightened our imaginative response.

the elephant man at boho theatre

We are enticed and engrossed with Merrick’s plight and we cheer for him to live life to the fullest. The tragedy is that Merrick only lived for four years with Treves as he died at age 27 in 1890.  BoHo Theatre’s production is a moving look at tolerance and what it is to be human. The 95 minute one act tells a compelling story  with style and truth. Steve O’Connell and Mike Tepeli command the stage.

Recommended

Tom Williams

At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago,  IL,  call 773-975-8150, www.BoHoTheatre.com, tickets $18 – $25, Thursday thru Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 95 minutes without intermission, through February 6, 2011