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The Son Also Rises: Ira Wood’s John Merrick Makes The Elephant Man at TIP a Must-See Docudrama

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The son also rises. During the Friday, April 8th, opening-night performance of Theatre in the Park’s touted “all-star” production of Brooklyn, NY-born playwright Bernard Pomerance’s 1979 Broadway docudrama, The Elephant Man, directed by his father, TIP founder and artistic and executive director Ira David Wood III, TIP assistant artistic director Ira David Wood IV generated the most candlepower with his luminous performance as severely deformed and disfigured English freak-show sensation John Merrick (nee Joseph Carey Merrick, a.k.a. “The Elephant Man,” 1862-90). Ira Wood contorted his muscular physique and slurred his speech to duplicate Merrick’s grotesquely twisted body and difficulty communicating, but the movie-star-handsome Raleigh actor played the part without prosthetics or makeup to replicate the massive tumors, wart skin, etc., that made Merrick’s appearance so hideous.

Raleigh actor David Wood and Raleigh actress Lynda Clark also give incandescent performances as soon-to-be-famous London Hospital surgeon Frederick Treves (Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Baronet, 1853-1923) and already well-known London actress Mrs. Kendal (Dame Madge Kendal, 1848-1935), whom Treves recruited to come to visit Merrick in Whitechapel to alleviate his loneliness and teach him social skills. Treves first met, examined, and photographed Merrick in 1884; and he later became his benefactor from 1886 until Merrick’s untimely death in 1890, at age 27.

Wood and Clark, who are arguably the Triangle’s most dynamic dramatic duo, contribute compelling characterizations of Treves and Kendal, even though they are decades older than the characters that they play. In fact, they brought such conviction to their roles that the first-nighters at the Raleigh community theater’s inaugural performance of The Elephant Man rose as one at the final curtain to reward Ira Wood, David Wood, Lynda Clark, and the rest of the TIP cast and crew with a hearty standing ovation.

The stars certainly sparkle in this show, but they sometimes overshadow the less-polished portrayals of the supporting cast, which seemed afflicted with an epidemic of opening-night jitters on Friday night. Even the stars fumbled a few lines; but this is a problem that should disappear with repetition, as the cast members settle into their roles.

David Wood (left) and Ira Wood star as Frederick Treves and John Merrick in <em>The Elephant Man</em>

David Wood (left) and Ira Wood star as Frederick Treves and John Merrick in The Elephant Man

Chris Milner adds a oily characterization of Bishop How (Church of England Bishop William Walsham How, 1823-97); Michael Lester is suitably gruff as London Hospital administrator and Treves’ boss Carr Gomm; and Randall Stanton makes Merrick’s treacherous freak-show manager Ross — who made a fortune exploiting Merrick’s physical deformities to the gawping masses and then robbed him and abandoned him in Brussels, Belgium — a thoroughly hissable villain. Emily Compton and Bob Harris give personable performances as Alexandra, Princess of Wales, and the upper-crust swindler Lord John — two of the high-society friends whom Mrs. Kendal invites to meet John Merrick, in hopes of improving his social skills — and Heather Shinpaugh and Megan Montgomery add sharply etched cameos as two of Merrick’s other highfaluting visitors, a Countess and a Duchess.

The remainder of the TIP cast includes Mackie Raymond as Miss Sandwich, a veteran London Hospital nurse repulsed by Merrick’s condition; Larry Jones and Matt Gore as overly curious hospital attendants Will and Snork; Janis Coville and Margo Schuler as two Pinheads and Jim O’Brien as their Manager; Nick Sinopoli as a Belgian Policeman; Steffen Schilstra as a London Policeman; and Harry Lawrence as an Ostend-London boat-train Conductor.

Director David Wood cinematically stages this heart-tugging tale, which flowed a little sluggishly on opening night, due to a large number of garbled lines that made it difficult for the audience to sustain their willing suspension of disbelief. But that’s a correctible problem.

Thomas Mauney’s scenic and lighting design also needs a little tweaking, to bring some scenes out of the shadows. But the vivid, wonderfully detailed Victorian costumes, recreated in all their glory by N.C. State University Theatre director and set and costume designer John C. McIlwee, are a veritable feast for the eye — and yet another reason to add a trip to Theatre in the Park to your April entertainment calendar. Don’t miss Ira Wood’s virtuoso performance!

<em>The Elephant Man</em> stars Lynda Clark as Mrs. Kendal and David Wood as Frederick Treves

The Elephant Man stars Lynda Clark as Mrs. Kendal and David Wood as Frederick Treves

SECOND OPINION: April 7th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com video preview: http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/15626574/; April 1st Raleigh, NC Time Warner Cable News Central NC interview with actor/director Ira David Wood III and actor Ira David Wood IV, conducted by Caroline Blair: http://www.twcnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/in-depth-interview/2016/04/1/in-depth-the-elephant-man.html; and March 30th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-elephant-man/Event?oid=4996893.

Theatre in the Park presents THE ELEPHANT MAN, directed by Ira David Wood III and starring David Wood as Dr. Fredrick Treves, Ira David Wood IV as John Merrick, and Lynda Clark as Mrs. Kendal at 3 p.m. April 10, 7:30 p.m. April 14-16, 3 p.m. April 17, 7:30 p.m. April 22 and 23, and 3 p.m. April 24 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.

TICKETS: $24 ($18 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $16 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or http://www.etix.com/.

INFORMATION: 919-831-6936.

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or http://theatreinthepark.com/whatson/group-sales.

SHOW: http://theatreinthepark.com/calendar/event/58 and https://www.facebook.com/events/1567534840211489/.

PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/, https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh, https://twitter.com/TheatreInPark, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_in_the_Park.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://theatreinthepark.com/visit/how-to-find-us.

MAP: https://maps.google.com/.

OTHER LINKS:

Joseph Carey Merrick, a.k.a. John Merrick, a.k.a. “The Elephant Man” (severely deformed and disfigured Englishman, 1862-90): http://josephcareymerrick.com/ (tribute site), http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0009264/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Merrick (Wikipedia).

The Elephant Man (1979 Broadway docudrama): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2264/elephant-man-the (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/3303 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elephant_Man_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://www.primestage.com/files/pdf/resource_guides/resource_guide_tem.pdf (Prime Stage Theatre of Pittsburgh, PA).

Bernard Pomerance (Brooklyn, NY-born playwright): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsP/pomerance-bernard.html (Doollee.com: Playwrights Database), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/4494 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0690052/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Pomerance (Wikipedia).

The Elephant Man (famous 1980 film not based on Pomerance’s play): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/4546/The-Elephant-Man/ (Turner Classic Movies page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080678/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elephant_Man_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).

Ira David Wood III (Raleigh, NC director/performer/playwright and TIP’s founder and artistic and executive director): http://theatreinthepark.com/about/whos-who; (TIP bio), https://www.facebook.com/iradavidwood; (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/idwiii; (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_David_Wood_III (Wikipedia).

Ira David Wood IV (Raleigh, NC director/performer/playwright and TIP’s assistant artistic director): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0939505/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/ira.d.wood (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/iradavidwoodiv (Twitter page).

Lynda Clark (Raleigh, NC performer and costumer designer): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0164230/ (Internet Movie Database) and https://www.facebook.com/lynda.clark.92 (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing robertm748@aol.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail robertm748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews