Director – Shawn Gann
Assistant Director – Mandy Rausch
Stage Manager – Jordan Sanchez
Music Composition and Sound Designer – Josh Bradford
Costume Designer – Emilee Kyle
Lighting Designer – Dawn Wittke
Set & Scenic Designer – Jeremiah Teutsch
Makeup & Hair Designer – Stephanie Campbell
John Merrick “The Elephant Man” - 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 – Zak Loera
Snork/Policeman – Matthew Talton
Will (Porter)/Policeman – Benjamin Bratcher
Miss Sandwich – Rose Anne Holman
Reviewed Performance 9/30/2016
Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The tale of Joseph Merrick’s life is a well-known and tragic one. A lifelong sufferer of a still undiagnosed medical condition, Merrick’s body was severely deformed by bone and skin growths. A childhood injury to his pelvis also left him unable to walk without the help of a cane. Victorian Era London, much like today, could be a cruel place for someone with an abnormal visage. However, a lucky person will find someone with compassion to help them have a better quality of life. For Joseph Merrick that person was Dr. Frederick Treves. Bernard Pomerance’s script continues the common mis-credit of Merrick’s name as John but tells his story in a touching and wonderful way.
The set for The Elephant Man follows the productions minimalist theme. A large wood box serves as the Stage Right wing, while a black box is the Upstage Left entrance and exit. Upstage is a platform that spans the entire stage and a white cloth, with a hinged door at center stage, masks the stage level under the platform. Those who saw The Firehouse Theatre’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird will recognize the modified set. The open space on the stage grants a lot of freedom and flexibility for easy scene changes.
Lighting design by Dawn Wittke, at appropriate times, can make the audience sense Merrick’s fear or the comfort of home. It is effective in confining the action to specific areas of the stage and enhancing the mood of the scenes with colorization. Creepy ethereal silhouettes are well used in a few scenes to demonstrate Merrick’s emotional state.
The costumes are the vital technical piece to set the time period of the production. Emily Kyle’s design accomplishes this goal. Corseted ladies in ankle length skirts. Gentlemen in vests and coats. These and many more elements made it easy to suspend disbelief and transport back to London in the 1880s.
It’s necessary to note no prosthetics are used to represent Joseph Merrick’s deformities. Early in the show Dr. Treves describes Merrick’s condition as we watch Jason Leyva, clad in a loin cloth, physically transform into a representation of The Elephant Man. Prosthetics are not necessary when so convincingly represented by a skilled actor.
Few productions can boast having original music composed specifically for it, but L.I.P. Service utilized the talent of local artist Josh Bradford for just that. The incredible music is both subtle appropriate. Many times it’s hard to recognize when the music begins as it seems eerily ever present. The mournful sound of a cello underscores the show with a bitter-sweet taste of melancholy. The sound is truly the technical highlight of this production. Beautiful.
Jason Leyva takes on the physically demanding task of portraying Merrick. Being twisted and bent for two hours on the stage must be quite uncomfortable. Intermission must come as a relief. Through this discomfort, Leyva is still able to present a fascinating array of emotions. The heartbreak and fear of being abandoned even comes through while he has a burlap sack over his head. Overall, the performance is engaging and masterful.
The man who cared for Merrick, Frederick Treves, is played by Pat Watson. Watson does well as the repressive gentleman full of sympathy. Treves is a complex character, pulled between his desire to make Merrick’s life better, his need to serve the hospital for which he works, and his earnest drive to be a proper British gentleman. Watson’s British accent never wavers and his presentation of Dr. Treves is as nuanced and lovely as that man himself. He seems to truly find joy as Merrick’s quality of life improves through Treves’ care and despair at the hardship of losing financial backing. Watson is a perfect choice to play against Jason Leyva.
An important part of Merrick’s development is his relationship with Mrs. “Madge” Kendal, played by Sara Lovett. Lovett demonstrates both the trepidation of meeting Merrick and a developed love for Merrick equally well. The chemistry between Lovett, Leyva, and Watson make this production truly special.
Top to bottom the cast list is full of talent, including the sole Actor’s Equity Association member, Bert Pigg. With the exception of the three main leads, all actors are double cast and each establishes their different characters expertly. All performances in The Elephant Man are beyond excellent and should not be missed. It is important to note, however, that the second act does contain a scene with brief nudity so it is not safe for children. All others should make their way to The Firehouse Theatre in the next two weekends to see this impressive production.
THE ELEPHANT MAN
LIP Service Productions
at Firehouse Theatre, 2535 Valley View Ln, Farmers Branch, TX 75234
Runs through October 15th
Performances are on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8pm. Tickets are $15. For tickets and info www.lipserviceproductions.info or call box office at (817) 689-6461.