Review: The Elephant Man (The Bench Theatre Initiative)

Stolte and LaRocque deliver magnetic performances to their roles in the tale of The Elephant Man

“If all that stared at me were sacked,” says Lyf Stolte playing John Merrick, the title role of The Elephant Man – on until May 12th at The Sanctuary – “then, whole towns would be out of work.”

The line comes after Fredrick Treves, a successful young doctor played by Luke LaRocque, fires two hospital employees caught spying on Merrick.

The sequence for me, powerfully established that the relationship between Treves and Merrick, a patient under his care, is at the core – if not always at the centre of attention – in this work by Bernard Pomerance.

In scenes that follow, a nurse played by Roberta Taylor, refuses to work with Merrick so the doctor hires an actor to play the role of a friend to Merrick.

As Treves explains to the actor, played by ‘Manda Whitney, if no one will show genuine kindness to Merrick, at least an actor can do a good job of faking kindness.

In the company of Ms. Whitney’s character, Merrick presents a high emotional IQ, offering a tender comment on Romeo And Juliet with a patient intellect, as he works on a model of a cathedral.

The seeming juxtaposition of the Elephant Man’s appearance – he has very unusual physical features – and personality brings a lot of attention.

Soon enough, the rich and powerful are visiting Merrick, played by an ensemble including: Mark Lindquist; Rachel Barton; Traci Noble, and Mike Hudon.

Meanwhile, Treves shows increasing frustration toward Merrick, who was originally completely under the doctor’s control.

It’s an interesting work, I thought.

It’s really loaded-up with description,” I heard a patron comment during the intermission; there is one twenty-minute intermission.

I agree – at times, the long paragraphs that The Elephant Man is full of in Act One can seem as clunky as the big black boxes that are used as part of the set.

But the performances were magnificent! Particularly that of Mr. Stolte.

Mr. Stolte seems about as versatile an actor as they come. His portrayal of this shy, vulnerable, disabled – the Elephant Man walks with a limp – character is engaging. And, in a late scene in the play, Mr. Stolte manages to inject a lot of energy.

Almost undoubtedly, some of the credit for Mr. Stolte’s magnetic performance belongs to Shannon Blake, the director of The Elephant Man.

The Elephant Man is worth checking out if you have a chance. If for nothing else then at least for the performances by Mr. Stolte and Mr. LaRocque.

Details

The Elephant Man is playing at the Sanctuary (25 Charles St. E.) until May 12th 2012
– All shows begin at 8:00pm; doors open at 7:30pm
– Tickets are $15.00 at the door, and $12.00 in advance (advance tickets can be purchased on The Bench website)
– For more info, please go to http://thebenchtheatre.com