THE ELEPHANT MAN is a must see-show mostly because of the amazing work of the lead actor. The physical transformation Giles Davies makes on stage in the opening moments is nothing short of magical. His ability to morph his attractive physique into one resembling the deformed John Merrick, the real life “Elephant Man,” is an impressive feat. But its his consistent portrayal of the man, humanizing him at every turn, that sets this actor apart from his peers.
Davies, a popular company member of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, no longer lives in Cincinnati full-time. It’s a shame because I don’t know if he has an equal in terms of his particular skill set and style. I expect this show to sell out. And it should.
Brian Isaac Phillips uses the stage uniquely to other productions at CSC. For one, there are eight audience seats, elevated above the action. On the set designed by Shannon Moore, these eight guests sit watching Mr. Merrick and his interactions with the terrific Brent Vimtrup (“Frederick Treves”) and Kelly Mengelkoch (“Mrs. Kendal”), symbolic of how this unusual looking gentleman lived his life – being gawked at as if in a virtual fishbowl.
Vimtrup is solid in his portrayal of a doctor plagued by the mystery of Merrick; he’s a scientist, but a kind one. He grows quite fond of his patient. Even fonder of him is the delightful Mrs. Kendal, an actress who sees past the external and right into the charming, sensitive, and caring heart of Davies’ character. Mengelkoch remains one of our cities greatest theatrical treasures; her portrayal here is pitch-perfect.
Rounding out the cast is the always terrific Billy Chace, the dependable Barry Mulholland, the versatile Geoffrey Warren Barnes, an underutilized Kyle Brumley, and Miranda McGee, who as always maximizes her impact with limited stage time. Her energy takes over the room; lately she’s demonstrating an even better control of her power. I’m a fan. Also in the cast are supporting players Vanessa Samson, Aiden Sims, Cristina Wiltshire, and Brandon Joseph Burton who complete the Ensemble with professionalism and solid performances.
Abbi Howson’s costumes are period specific and look good under Justen N. Locke’s dramatic lighting. Nathan Davis presents his sound design with minimal invasiveness; his projections help keep the story moving and the audience engaged.
Much of this show features two people sitting on stage talking. This can be boring. And I’ll admit there are a few times in Act Two where I lost interest. But only a few. Mostly, I was taken by Davies strong performance, Mengelkoch’s chemistry with him, and Vimtrup’s well-played internal conflict. And even more than that, I left thinking about how Mr. Merrick, with all of his pain – both physical and emotional – made the best of his situation.
We really don’t have it so bad, ya know?
THE ELEPHANT MAN runs through November 5th at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company on Race Street. Tickets and more information can be found here. If you’d like to sit on stage, please note the yellow-highlighted seats on the seating chart. You’ll be asked to wear a costume piece over your clothing. And if you are seated there, please be conscious not to do anything distracting. Also: be advised there is some female nudity in the performance. Run time is just under two hours including a fifteen minute intermission.