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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Eye of the Beholder

Being the noble philanthropist that I am, I gave away my umbrella to a group of nuns earlier yesterday. It was a big umbrella, and they were very small nuns. They might have been penguins. It was one of those days.
It was for that reason (and not because I left my umbrella sitting comfortably at home in a warm closet), that I was braving the elements somewhat exposed last night, all in the name of good quality theatre, when I went to see NTA's production of The Elephant Man at the Tramway Theatre. The fact that Maria-Christina Oliveras was part of the cast had only very little to do with it. Either that or it had everything to do with it. I can't remember. It was cold, and marauding penguins stole my umbrella.
Whatever the case, it was a very impressive and highly affecting production. Eric Laurits brings the deformed title character to life sans prosthetics or any other make-up effects, twisting his entire body in a remarkable and labor-intensive performance. I could feel my arms and legs getting tired just watching him. Equally skillful is his characterization of the simple but exceptionally astute John Merrick, lifted from the circus freak show into upper-class 19th century London society in a bizarre, but fairly true, twist on the Pygmalion fable. (Merrick's actual first name was Joseph. His doctor, Frederick Treves, mis-recalled it as "John" when he wrote his memoirs many years later. Nerd stuff. Ignore at your leisure.) Ivan Lopez deftly balances ardent emotion with English restraint as Treves, Merrick's deliverer, benefactor, and, ultimately, student. Anne Marie Nest is radiant as Mrs. Kendal, the larger-than-life stage actress and "love interest" for the hopelessly and tragically romantic Merrick. Ms. Oliveras takes a more minor role in the ensemble (much to my chagrin) than she did in Working, but still manages to bring a distinct sparkle to every second of stage time she is afforded.
It is difficult not to write also about the musical that the eight actors I saw last night are currently doing in rep with The Elephant Man, just as it was also somewhat difficult not to think about it during the performance, having seen it less than a week ago. However, the recent memory of the powerful experience of Working only further confirmed for me just how talented the cast before me really was.
The Elephant Man and Working are running in rep through April 28th. I suggest seeing them both if you can, and at only $16 per ticket, that is a fairly inexpensive possibility.

Another local show deserving of your attention is Performance Now's Gypsy, which runs through April 29th.

The Shane Bernier birthday card campaign continues. The little man turns 8 in just over a month (May 30th), and even one card makes a difference. (But two make more . . .)

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