April 7, 2011
The Elephant Man
by Ted Hoover
[This review discussed both Ninth Wave's show, as well as a production of Agnes of God running at the same time elsewhere in the city. It has been edited to given information only about our production.]
In some ways, Agnes of God and The Elephant Man are almost mirror images. Agnes (1979) and Elephant (1982) opened back when Broadway still regularly offered storytelling in a theatrical style instead of movie-influenced spectacle. Each play is based on a true story, and both have enjoyed long lives at regional and community theaters.
On another level, John Pielmeier's Agnes and Bernard Pomerance's Elephant are concerned with societal "freaks," and with how "normal" people slowly begin to identify with them….
John Merrick is a man so hideously deformed that he is exhibited in a Victorian circus as "The Elephant Man." Exploited and abandoned, he is taken into the Royal London Hospital under the care of Dr. Frederick Treeves, who can't cure him but can bring him solace and refined society during his final years.
Both Agnes and Merrick are written as innocents, and that purity causes profound changes within those around them. Though Agnes of God is the better-written play -- Elephant Man never quite overcomes its gimmicky feel -- both are intelligent and entertaining pieces of theater...
Kelly Colleen McMahon's direction for the visiting Ninth Wave version of The Elephant Man is strong throughout, with several moving performances, notably Gwen Morton as Mrs. Kendall, and Patrick Curley and Corey Rieger as Merrick and Treeves.