‘Elephant Man’ at Spreckels - a heart-tugging morality tale
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By Jud Snyder  October 5, 2012 12:00 am

Thanks to their policy of renting out the 250-seat Condiotti Theater nearly every weekend inside Spreckels Performing Arts Center, stage drama lovers are pleased consumers amid the intimate gems North Bay theater companies are dropping in our laps. Another example is on the boards right now, “The Elephant Man.” It plays weekends through Sunday Oct. 14.

It’s a natural platform for a playwright. A sensitive adult man, grows up horridly disfigured with protruding tumors, distorted facial features, a useless right hand and a severe limp.

A target of human exploiters running a shabby carnival with a bearded lady, woman with four legs and “Siamese” twins, put the “Elephant Man” mercilessly on view. Spectators, lured to pay to look at him, shrink away with gasps of horror.

It’s based on a true story and takes place in London in the 1890s.

A sympathetic Dr. Treves knows the man is afflicted with a very rare childhood disease and is doomed to a shortened adult life. However, he takes on this often-bullied patient who’s unable to talk. The process of creating a virtual human adult forms the colorful, character-crammed thread this dramatic story clings to, up to a certain point.

A Santa Rosa-based theater company called What A Show! brings it to the intimate, experimental Condiotti stage. It’s directed by Scott van der Horst, a 35-year veteran of North Bay theater works.

Peter Warden plays John Merrick, the elephant man, burdened with a twisted face and hideous tumor growths on his head. Richard La Rosa plays the often frustrated but bitterly persistent Dr. Treves.

The cast is huge, many of them playing multiple roles, and the costumes by Tracy Hinman Sigrist are thoroughly authentic. You’re immediately thrust into the action, for you have to find your seat by threading your way through a boisterous crowd of carnival sharpies.

“The Elephant Man” script, performed by these stage professionals, was written by Bernard Pomeranz and won a Tony award on Broadway in 1980. It was made into a movie directed by David Lynch and starred John Hurt.

If you’re seeking a tightly strung together drama for gripping entertainment, this production is a natural ticket.

Call the Spreckels box office Tuesday through Saturday afternoons at 588-3400, or drop by one hour before curtain times to check their availability. It’s first come, first served.

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