Must-see ‘Elephant Man’ by Thursday Night Theater brings classic tale to life at El Portal in NoHo Apr. 4–14

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The Elephant Man, written by Bernard Pomerance and directed by Robyn Cohen, takes us into the pitiful life of Joseph Merrick (Tom Vitorino), a man born horribly disfigured in 1862 England.

“The Elephant Man” is the name Merrick adopts when he displays himself as a “circus freak” prior to being studied and befriended by Dr. Frederick Treves (John Ralston Craig) who invites Merrick to remain a permanent guest at London Hospital.

While there, Merrick is visited by members of London’s high society, namely Mrs. Kendal (Alice L. Walker), a stage actress who draws close to him, platonically sharing their love of life and literature.

Unlike the 1980 film starring John Hurt in the title role, our Merrick is without makeup effects or prosthetics, as is tradition for the stage. While Vitorino delivers a fantastic and believable Elephant Man, contorting his face and body, including a hunched and twisted walk complete with cane, this reviewer would have preferred special effects make up.

An interesting moment occurs when Merrick and Dr. Treves metaphorically switch roles, examiner becoming the examined, and we learn Treves is no less an exhibit himself, also captive, beholden to the hospital’s administration as well as the constant critique of London’s scientific community.

With fog effects and lighting creating a layered mood and ambience and with a talented cast, including a bare-all performance by Walker, an intriguing and dynamic Craig, as well as strong supporting by Skip Pipo and Jon Sperry, Thursday Night Theater brings this classic tale to life.

This is a must-see for any fan of the era, genre, or subject.      

“The Elephant Man” is on stage Thursday, April 4 through Sunday, April 14. Call (818) 508-4200. Also Visit ElPortalTheatre.com and ThursdayNightTheaterClub.com. El Portal Theatre is located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood.

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