Blanketed in darkness the angelic faces painted across the ceiling of the Wells theatre. Light circus tunes played as the light slowly reappeared as the Virginia stage company's Elephant Man began. An alignment of characters stood stiffly in a row across the stage. They inflexibly each recited hearsay about the legendary main character. Clouds of overdone smoke cascaded from the stage to the audience. The stage is carefully crafted to resemble a side show. Adorned with Christmas lights and sheer curtains that cascaded over each other, the stage was an adequate replica of a carnival booth. Proudly perched on the stage poking out his red vest to the maximum, stood Carr Gomm (Munson Hicks). He belts out ht history of Elephant Man in an extremely degrading fashion. In a rapid and rather difficult to interpret accent, he introduces Elephant man a commodity. Gomm gestured onlookers towards his sideshow while explaining to the audience that Elephant man experiences humiliation in order to make a living.
All of the propaganda reaches the ear of Dr. Treves (Jeremiah Hicks) a around doctor. Treves braces himself and curiously peaks at the monstrosity which is Elephant Man. He returns shuttering in disbelief. His curiosity is aroused to the point where he demands to take Elephant Man back to the lab for further examination. Of course Gomm prostitutes poor Elephant Man for capitol.
Adding comedy relief and aesthetic value to the predominantly male cast were three young women aptly named Pinheads (Lindsey Carey, Ashley Hammond, and Rebecca Williams). Their makeup was a gaudy combination of geisha and circus clown. Wearing apparel appropriate for ballerinas, they were portrayed as feeble and mindless creations. The young ladies' high pitched voices only uttered short phrases simultaneously. Calling them morons and threatening to send them back to the asylum. The only difference was that the young ladies were brought to tears. Fortunately Elephant man sat adjacent to them begging them to cease their tears. Throughout the entire play Elephant man displays inner beauty and friendliness.
Surprisingly Elephant man (Jed Orleman) was not covered in makeup. The sight was just a regular man who would normally be attractive but his bottom lip was turned as if he had a stroke. A diaper-like toga was thrown around his privates. He was barefoot and shirtless as if he were a primate. The costume brought upon more sympathy for Elephant Man. The toga was stark white representing elephant man's worldly innocence.
The sunny side of the play displayed itself after Dr. Treves saves Elephant Man from exile. He showed continual compassion for Elephant Man. Finally, Treves called him by his birth name John Merrick. He invited him to live at his home for experiments. Treves' assistant Miss Sandwich (Amber Wood) hesitantly bathes and pampers Merrick. Stunned in disbelief at such good treatment, Merrick questioned when he will have to move. Treves reassures Merrick that he will no longer have to suffer any maltreatment or move again. Merrick has to verbally repeat "This is my home!" Treves gives Merrick more than just a home; he brings out his confidence and identity as a human despite of his deformity. Merrick appreciates to a great extent the simple luxuries that we all take for granted.
Another one of Treves' lavish gifts was an encounter with the lovely Mrs. Kendal (Brandy Zarle). Clothed in an elegant gown and fancy strawberry blonde wig, she is another "local celebrity" as is Treves who obviously had the privilege of getting her to visit. Like most self-conscious actresses she boasts mostly about herself. The character (probably unaware) shifts every conversation to make it about herself. In doing so it created a humorous satirical look at actresses. This lightened up the situation and also showed a severe shift in Merricks' luck. Kendal shows that she is not just trying to convince others that she is good enough she also has to prove it to herself. Treves requests that she meet Merrick due to the fact that he has not had a great amount of contact with a woman. A memorable joke in the play was when Mrs. Kendal kids that both women famous or infamous disclose their true feelings in order to please men. That drew up a large hoot from the ever-so-classy audience members.
Expecting to accomplish just another gig, Mrs. Kendal is astonished by Elephant Man's inner beauty. This was the type of beauty that Kendall longed to express but leaned too heavily on her outer to beauty to show. At last the audience gets a brief autobiography form Merrick himself. He explains to Kendall that she is as stunning as his mother was. He also reveals to Kendal that she was struck by an elephant while with child. Merrick goes on to explain that the blow was the reason for his physical deformity. Together they discuss the plot of "Romeo and Juliet". Without flinching, he deconstructed one of the most famous works in history. He discussed the issue of unconditional love. Merrick wonders why Romeo didn't even check for Juliet's pulse nor call an ambulance to save his enchanted love. These inquiries brought upon great laughter meanwhile giving new insight to such a celebrated play. Merrick comes to the conclusion that Romeo didn't truly love Juliet because his efforts to save her were minimal. The monologue was the most Merrick spoke in the whole play. The character displayed true eloquence despite of his physical flaws. Kendal is mesmerized by his intellect. Her gorgeous face is overcome with awe. Merrick goes on to optimistically explain that his head is so large because it is filled with dreams. That moment brought on a great sense of sympathy and love towards the disfigured man from every observer.
As Merrick goes on to live in London he is adored by the public. Visitors traveled from afar to bring him magnificent gifts for Christmas. The fact that the play's happy ended was set during the Christmas holiday rounded out the triumphant ending. The conclusion of the play was a complete 180 from the beginning instead of slander; praise was given to hicks for his brain power as well as his building capability. Words such as "discreet", "compassionate", and gentle, came from the lips of some of London's finest. Those individuals included Bishop Lowe (Mark Minehart) and the duchess (Amber Woods). Adding to the compassion theme each character confessed to his or her resemblance to Mr. Merrick. Out of the ordinary the Bishop admitted to sometimes being doubtful. Traditionally, a leader especially in the ministry can never show vulnerability. It was clever of the writer to show people off their high horse. The message that everyone is mortal and that we all fall short sometimes unified everyone.
The actors skillfully shuffled more than one role. Members of the cast also took turns introducing the acts. The Pinheads were seen as a trio and cutely introduced their act as one. All of the English accents were believable. The play ran for one full hour of interesting dialogue and expressions. It was not drawn out with solos and dedications.
Due to intense hearsay and a sign marked "Elephant Man contains nudity", viewers went in expecting an undressed woman. Waiting to see what all of the hoopla was all about might have been a mild distraction from the play. Unfortunately the controversial scene was removed. No decision could be made in whether the scandal heightened the overall impact of the play. Pressure may have altered the director's vision.
Overall the play was an underdog or rags to riches story. The underlying message was that everyone is like Merrick in reference to our character flaws. The portrait of the actual Elephant Man hung from the top of the stage. By the end of the play it resembled more than just a disfigured man, it glowed with a story of triumph. Audience members left smiling and feeling for at lest that moment more secure. Messages like that can be carried in the back of minds to remind people that your true colors will eventually shine through whether attractive by society's standards or not.