'The Elephant Man' at Randall Theatre

Peter Wickliffe plays Joseph Merrick, Jon Oles plays Frederick Treves and Becky Durango plays Madge Kendal in Randall Theatre Company's production of Bernard Pomerance's “The Elephant Man.”Photo by Bob Pennell

In 1800s London, it wasn't uncommon to wind up working as a sideshow oddity if one's physical attributes were too distorted or unusual. Such was the fate of Joseph Merrick, a man who painfully suffered from a rare medical condition that left him horribly disfigured.

Resigned to his harsh existence, Joseph "John" Merrick's life changed when he was befriended by the good Dr. Frederick Treves, who arranged for Merrick to live out his days in a London hospital. There, he was made comfortable, but he remained a curiosity and became sought after by society's elite. But those who dared look past Merrick's deformity discovered something more in the man, and found their lives forever changed.

If you go

What: Bernard Pomerance's "The Elephant Man"

When: Opens Friday,

March 22

Where: Randall Theatre,

10 E. Third St., Medford

Tickets: Pay-what-you-want; $12 for reserved seats

Call: 541-632-3258 or see www.randalltheatre.com

Randall Theatre Company — now back in its warehouse theater at 10 E. Third St. in Medford after repairs to a leaky roof — will present Bernard Pomerance's drama "The Elephant Man."

"It's a story of friendship and redemption," says Artistic Director Robin Downward. "Treves and the hospital were able to help Merrick break the negative cycle of his life and live as a normal human being, while Merrick was able to help Treves look past his medical training and find a human being and a friend in Merrick."

Curtain is at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 22-23, Thursday through Saturday, March 28-30, and Friday and Saturday, April 5-6. Matinees are set for 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 23-24, Saturday, March 30, and Saturday and Sunday, April 6-7. Michael Meyer directs.

Pay-what-you-want tickets are available at the door; reserved seats cost $12 and are available at www.randalltheatre.com or by calling 541-622-5795.

Pomerance's play is an adaptation of the true story of Joseph Merrick. The play's Broadway debut was in 1979. A film production was released the following year.

"The film was a decent adaptation of the play," Downward says. "The acting, directing, the whole feeling of the play was translated well.

"The difference between the play and the film is that the former shows a lighter side of the situation. Merrick made the best of his situation. There are endearing, sometimes humorous moments that appear in the play and not the film," Downward says. "And our director didn't want the production to become a heavy, depressing drama."

At one moment in the play, Treves is discussing a course of medical treatment and tells Merrick that what he prescribes doesn't compare with that for other patients — yet Merrick points out that it is no different.

"Merrick's manner is so facetious that Treves feels caught in an act of condescension," Downward says. "The way Merrick responds to Treves' tone is what's amusing."

Treves and Merrick become close friends in "The Elephant Man," and their banter reveals an underlying playfulness.

"Friends who deal with difficult times will still find humor in situations," Downward says. "Michael has tried to find the lighter moments in Pomerance's work."

The role of Merrick will be played by Peter Wickliffe. Unlike in the film, the role calls on an actor to work without makeup or prosthetic devices.

"It's physically demanding," Downward says. "Peter has to portray emotions without using facial expressions, because Merrick's face was in a constant state of distortion. He must use vocal inflection and posture to mirror Merrick's disfigurement.

"It's one of the most remarkable things about the play — the actor must be Merrick rather than act like Merrick in order to be convincing."

A dinner show production of "The Elephant Man" will be presented at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at Habaneros Mexican Restaurant, 142 N. Front St., Medford. A buffet dinner will be available at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $30, include dinner and the show, and may be purchased at www.randalltheatre.com or by calling 541-632-3258.

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