Guest review by Al Currie
With The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance, L.I.P. Service presents another challenging, thought-provoking play, which seems to be their preference. Directed by Shawn Gann, the two act documentary-styled drama runs through October 15, Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8:00pm, at the Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch. The play won numerous Drama Desk and Tony Awards in 1979, including Outstanding New Play, Director, Actor and Actress and the New York Drama Critics’ Award for Best New Play. It was also made into a successful film in 1980.
Called the “Elephant Man” while on display in a London freak show, Joseph Merrick (called John in the play), severely deformed by a progressive congenital disorder, died in 1890 at age 27, after leading a life that took him from a Leicester workhouse to a London Hospital where he became a painter and Society darling. This Tony Award-winning play sticks close to history, while injecting timely social commentary. How do we regard and care for troubled people in our community? What are they capable of when individuals and society acts?
Lobby, program, projected images provide vivid imagery of deformity and curiosity. Jason Leyva portrays title role with posture, gait, expression, voice, instead of special effect make up. An impressive performance, that draws audience to consider character, instead of appearance. The portrayal of Merrick without any prostheses is required by the playwright.
Chris Messersmith portrays the heartless Cockney showman who abuses Merrick, then takes turn as the Bishop saving Merrick’s soul. Pat Watson, as protagonist Dr. Treves, who discovers Merrick on the streets, is a new face (to this reviewer). He makes it his mission to rescue the disfigured man, with help of London Hospital’s director, Dr Gomm (Bert Pigg). The hospital has no cure; so they endeavor to give Merrick normal comfortable life, with some success. A strictly limited visitor list includes actors, artists and royalty. Sara Lovett stands out in this production as a famous stage actress, Mrs. Kendal, who becomes Merrick’s confidant and advocate. A sideshow has a chorus of charming pin head (microcephaly) girls (Edna Gill, Christina Schmidt and Stephanie Campbell), who with their cruel manager (Zak Loera) also play Society hospital patrons.
A brief, touching, relevant semi-nude scene in the second act exposes the conflict between Victorian mores and science. As science is still puzzled by “Elephant Man”, you’ll ponder your own attitudes to the unfortunate, as another mystery.
Best parking for the Firehouse Theatre is a friendly church across street, NOT shopping center next to the Firehouse. DART Green Line Farmers Branch station is another option.
L.I.P. Service continues to knock it out of the park. I loved this show. Check It Out.
John Merrick — Jason Leyva
Frederick Treves — Pat Watson
Mrs. ‘Madge’ Kendal – Sara Lovett
Carr Gomm, Conductor — *Bert Pigg
Ross, Bishop Walsham How — Chris Messersmith
Pinhead, Princess Alexandra — Edna Gill
Pinhead, Duchess — Christa Schmidt
Pinhead, Countess — Stephanie Campbell
Lord John, Pinhead Manager — Zac Loera
Snork, Belgian Policeman — Matthew Talton
Will (Porter), English Policeman — Benjamin Bratcher
Miss Sandwich — Rose Anne Holman
*indicates member of Actors’ Equity Association
CONTACT/TICKETS: www.lipserviceproductions.info 817-689-6461
The Firehouse Theatre: 2535 Valley View Lane, Farmers Branch
Guest review by Al Currie
Photos by Pendleton Photography