Few eyes were dry at The Victorian Players during opening weekend of “The Elephant Man.”
The 1979 Tony Award winner, written by Bernard Pomerance, is based on the life of Joseph Merrick, a Victorian-era Englishman who was famous for an unsightly disfiguration. Because of his appearace, Merrick leads a troublesome life — half spent as a freak show act — and goes through a substantial amount of emotional and physical abuse.
The play, directed by John Cox and Christopher Fidram, opens as Hospital Administrator Carr Gomm (Tom Smith) and up-and-coming surgeon Frederick Treves (Matt DeBattiste) discuss Treves’ career at London Hospital. Not long after, Treves meets the Elephant Man (John Pecano) and is immediately intrigued by Merrick’s condition. Treves leaves his business card with Merrick, telling him to contact him that if he is ever open to the idea of medical examination.
After being let go from his side show job and turned loose on the streets to fend for himself, Merrick gets into an altercation with police and Treves is contacted because they found his business card on Merrick. Treves arranges for Merrick to take up residency at the hospital, where true friendship begins to evolve between the two.
Merrick, who wants nothing more than to lead a normal life, adapts well in his new environment and is eventually able to accomplish a number of goals before his death including building models of buildings, traveling and seeing a naked woman. Merrick creates a special bond with Mrs. Kendall (Leigh Ann Cox), a famous actress who proves that her heart is as beautiful as her outward appearance.
After battling the desire for a normal life and coming to terms with his belief in God, Merrick knows thinks that his heart will not hold out much longer. When he is finished putting the finishing touches on the model church he had been working on, he quietly takes his own life in hopes of experiencing peace in the afterlife.
Pecano’s portrayal of Merrick is fabulous and believable. His sincere approach to the role leaves the audience in tears throughout the play and mixes in some laughs. The statement he makes in this powerful role leaves the troubled heartbroken, while giving strength to know that life is what you make of it.
Both DeBattiste and Leigh Ann Cox share intoxicating chemistry with Pecano, making these three roles staples in the production. There’s a feeling of genuine love between the three, as each looks after the other during difficult times.
Two political issues are also apparent in the storyline. The first deals with Merrick’s faith in God and Treves’ belief in science. While neither changed the opinion of the other, it must be said that Treves knew Merrick’s life was a miracle.
The second was less obvious but deals strictly with authority and rules. Merrick struggled to grasp the concept that rules are followed because that’s what’s best for the individual, and he didn’t understand how society and bureaucrats, who have next to nothing in common with him, can dictate what’s right for him.
An additional noteworthy mention is that Ed Port, an Austintown resident who suffers from neurofibromatosis type 2, is hosting a raffle that will end closing night. The winner will receive dinner for up to four people — prepared by Port — at his home. Tickets are available during each showing of “The Elephant Man.” Cost of the tickets are $5 each or 3 for $10. The drawing will take place the last night of the show. More information can be found at www.edneedsamiracle.com.
“The Elephant Man” continues through Sept. 27. General admission is $10 and admission for seniors and students is $8.