Farewell Thoughts

The theatre director, and our great friend, Michael Bigelow Dixon has the habit of concluding his part in the rehearsal process by passing along to the cast what he “loves” about the production they have created together. As the cast of The Elephant Man prepares for their final bows this weekend, they have come together here to pass along to you what they “love” the most about this phenomenal piece of theatre. 

Megan K. Pence (Director)—I love the deep, beautiful connections the cast has made with each other which drive the need to tell this powerful story that the world needs to hear right now. I love it that every time you see this show, you notice something new. I love the humor! There are some sassy characters in this show. And it’s always fun when the audience realizes it’s okay to laugh. I love that I have a newfound appreciation for Romeo’s failure in Romeo & Juliet. I love how the need for human connection plays out in this story. I love how the actors bring their hearts and souls to every performance. They aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and express the full range of their character’s emotional lives.

David Hennessey (F.C. Carr Gomm)—I love Merrick’s argument with Treves about nakedness, anesthesia, and whose standards “we abide by.” I love that I’m always struck by how Merrick tries to strike up a camaraderie with the freaks in the other side show act he meets in Belgium. No matter how they reply to him and no matter his own personal circumstance—especially after he’s been beaten—he continues to reach out to them with kind, soothing words, looking for friends. It’s significant that on his death bed, these are the people he imagines singing a lullaby to his rest. Though he never really formed a bond with them, they are the ones he chooses to comfort him in his hour of need. 

Brandt Roberts (John Merrick)—For me, the one thing I love most about our production was the opportunity in each and every performance to explore Merrick’s life with an incredible family of warm-hearted artists. It never got old. It never got stale. It was always rich and fulfilling. As I’ve grown closer to Merrick over the past few months, I’ve learned more about myself as a human being. It has been an amazing journey and I am honored I got to share it with so many lovely people.

Patrick Vaughn (Will, Lord John)—My favorite thing was probably that the show forced me to uncover a much wider range of physical and vocal expression that didn’t feel like mere impressions. I’ve played multiple characters in productions I’ve been in before, but in Elephant Man, for perhaps the first time in my career, it actually felt like six different people, rather than just myself in six different costumes playing six different variations of myself. And as much as I’d like to take full credit for those transformations, it was very much a team effort, and most of the credit goes to the members of the team that people don’t get to watch onstage, yet I am very proud to have been a cog in the wheel.

Amanda Pyfferoen (Assistant Stage Manager Extraordinaire)—I love the true friendship that develops between Merrick and Treves; true friendships leave an impacting impression and often make you a better person. This is apparent in our production with the compassion developed by Treves for others, especially Merrick and the gumption found by Merrick to have a voice in society.

Lizzy Andretta (Mrs. Kendal)—I love that it highlights the best of humanity even in the direst of circumstances.

Ben Gorman (Ross/Bishop How)—I love the fact that many of our patrons see and engage with the depth and complexity of this deceptively simple play; they want to explore it and get more out of the experience, some by coming to see it more than once.

Abbie Cathcart (Miss Sandwich/Princess Alexandra)—I’ve loved everyone’s energy throughout this process. It’s felt very focused, yet also friendly and chill.

Jeremy van Meter (Dr. Frederick Treves)—I love Mrs. Kendal’s giggle. I love Miss Sandwich’s lisp. I love the ease with which Megan assumed the role of director. I love that Lord John always announces his presence by slamming the tip of his walking stick onto the ground. I love finding the “best” spots of Thomas White’s lighting design. I love Carr Gomm’s adherence to the “rules,” no matter the cost. I love the moment when Bishop How bypasses a handshake from Carr Gomm. I love it that Merrick whispers a “thank you” under his breath to Treves several times during a performance. I love that our stage management team appreciates this production as much as we do. I love the stunned silence as the lights rise for the curtain call/cast bows at the end of each performance.

Bernard Pomerance, the author of The Elephant Man, died on Tuesday, August 29 at the age of 76. The final two performances of our production run are dedicated to the memory and soul of this amazing artist and man. May he rest in peace. 

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I See You

By Jeremy van Meter

As the final performance of The Elephant Man approaches, I am struck by the power of learning lessons as an adult—an “almost 50-year old adult.” In the portrayal of a character, there is always something to be learned if one remains open to the process. Even in playing the most minor of characters, I have always walked away knowing a little bit more about myself as a person and about the world around me. In the portrayal of Dr. Frederick Treves in The Elephant Man, what I have gained is invaluable and, I know this sounds cliché, what I have gained has made me a better man.

When rehearsal began this past April, I knew the life story of Joseph Merrick but I had no idea or had forgotten who Merrick was as a person. I had no idea that he was an avid reader. I did not know that he was a lover of poetry. I was not aware that he built, with one hand, miniature models of cathedrals and churches. It was a surprise to me that several times over the course of two years he vacationed and walked the grounds of Fawlsey Hall Estate in Northamptonshire where he would collect wildflowers to return to London with. I, like so many others before me, had labeled him as “less than” and not as intelligent as he actually was. And that is the most powerful lesson I have learned.

I, like Treves at the outset of the play, made my impressions about Merrick based on his outward appearance. Treves saw the advancement of science and his own career through the discovery of something that no one had ever seen before. For Treves, Merrick was a “case study” and it was not until he had the opportunity to see the man inside the study, that his life was changed. In today’s society, it is so easy and convenient to toss around labels. And once that label is placed, for whatever reason, the human being inside is overlooked and done a huge disservice. We do a disservice to ourselves as well.

Because of these characters—Frederick Treves and Joseph Merrick—and this play, I have made a vow to avoid placing labels on anyone. I have made a vow to live in a way that I “See” everyone I come into contact with. And, yes, that capital S I just used in the word “see” is intentional. There are amazing human beings all around us especially those that we categorize as “other.” I have made a vow to never look past them but to instead attempt to look inside them.

The Elephant Man plays through September 2nd at the Commonweal and if you have yet to experience it, I urge you to do so. The play, the story and the man inside both altered my life and I just bet it will do the same for you.

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