Monday, May 19, 2014

The Elephant Man—Beaverton Civic Theatre—Beaverton, OR

What Makes a Man?

I did not go to review this play, since I only saw the closing performance of it, as a friend of mine was in it.  But since they did such a remarkable job for a community theatre of a difficult play and subject matter, in such a confined space, I thought they deserved a nod.  So, here is a mini-review, hoping you might want to check out future productions.

An age-old question and none better to represent it than John Merrick (Rielly Peene), the Elephant Man, who lived in England during the late 1800’s.  He spent much of his life in a carnival side-show run by an unscrupulous manager, Ross (Laurence Cox).  His later life was more serene for him, as he was a special guest of a hospital, after he was rescued by Dr. Treves (Adam Caniparoli), and was visited by heads of states from many countries.  He turned out to be quite an erudite fellow and even built a model for a church.

The director, Jessica Reed, has done a fine job on her use of such a tight space and having the smooth flow for the many scene changes.  And her cast is uniformly good.  All the debating sides of, just what is a man, represented by the Church, Bishop How (David Paull); politics, represented by the head of the hospital, Gomm (Steve Holgate); medical science, Treeves; and even property ownership, by his old manager, Ross.  He even gets a glimpse of the female side of things through an actress, Mrs. Kendal (Leticia Maskell).

David Paull

More questions are raised than answers but it is obvious Merrick is a sensitive man with real feelings and dreams.  Many of the cast play more than one role and do them well.  Cox plays his manager and, although portrays the gruffness of the man with enthusiasm, he really is too young for such a seasoned con artist as Ross.  And Caniparoli is good but I would have liked to see a little more variety at times in his performance.

Outstanding is Peene as Merrick.  They have wisely chosen not to go into the heavy make-up, which it would take to realistically presented this person, but have found a happy, middle-ground in which he contorts his body similar to Merrick’s and slurs his speech a bit, and the rest of the transformation is just very fine acting.  A difficult role, beautifully played.

Also very good is Maskell as the actress.  She is lovely and has the right look and bearing to realistically present a famous actress of that period, like a Duse or Bernhardt.  Her scenes with Merrick are especially touching.  She has classical training in her back ground and I predict she will go far in this medium.

Their first two shows of next season are the fairy-tale musical, Into the Woods, and the classical, Little Women.  I think their shows should deserve a look.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-754-9866.

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