Quote of the Day: To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature. Auguste Rodin

Perhaps the mission of the artist is to interpret beauty to people – the beauty within themselves. Langston Hughes

Nicholas Kory as John Merrick in the Elephant Man, BCT at CLC. Photo by John Erickson.

Sometimes a play comes along that is a true work of art. Patrick Spradlin has directed an exceptional work of theater arts in the Brainerd Community Theater (BCT) Production at Central Lakes College (CLC). The script feels like an open journal that the characters perform for us, sometimes in monologue, sometimes in dialogues, and sometimes in actions that are both hard to watch and heart-breaking. 

The Elephant Man is the true story of John Merrick who had grotesque deformities that started to develop when he was five years old. He was born in Leicester, England in 1862, a happy, healthy baby boy. His mother died when he was eleven years old, which caused him deep sadness. He was very close to his mother and she cared for and nurtured him and never rejected him because of his deformities. His father remarried and treated John cruely. He was sent to a workhouse where he was treated even worse. After he left the workhouse, he joined with a traveling freak show where he was put on display as “The Elephant Man.” People left screaming and choking from his stench. Although he was treated fairly well by his handlers, and paid, at one point he was robbed, and lost on the streets. In his pocket, they found a card from Dr. Frederick Treves. The play tells the rest of the story.

Kevin Yeager as Dr. Treves in BCT’s production of The Elephant Man, at CLC. Photo by John Erickson.

 This is one of the most superbly acted productions that I’ve seen at CLC. Nicholas Kory as John Merrick is heart-breaking and tender. He shows us the human behind the disfigurement. He is an artist, sensitive and lonely. At one point in the play he says, “If your mercy is so cruel, what do you do for judgement?”

Kevin Yeager gets to the heart of his character as well. He plays Dr. Frederick Treves. He is the first (in the play) to show compassion to the young man. He talks to his keeper Ross (played by Marc Oliphant) about how he can help him. He gives him his card. When they are reunited, he tries to help him, but the limits of medicine of those times was too much. Mostly, he just kept him safe, and at one point found him a companion.

Enter Mrs. Kendal played by the extraordinary Jenny Kiffmeyer. This is the strongest, and bravest, performance I’ve seen from her. She takes this role on with a strength and tenderness befitting this heart-wrenching story. Bravo to you, Jenny. It takes courage, and trust, to be so bold on stage. 

Jenny Kiffmeyer as Mrs. Kendal in The Elephant Man at CLC. Photo by John Erickson.

All of the actors were at the top of their game, and under the thoughtful direction of Patrick Spradlin, have created a memorable show filled with emotion. The stage is simple with easy moving parts, dividers with curtains to simulate a hospital, set pieces to represent offices and the carnival. We see a model of a church that John Merrick works on throughout the play, as well as drawings that show the artist within. The sound and lighting (designed by Ben Kent and George Marsolek) create the atmosphere. Erika Christiansen exquisitely plays the cello during the play, creating a strong emotional connection to the story as it unfolds before us.

You can see The Elephant Man at CLC through October 4, 2018. Week day performances only next week. The theater community is giving his praise to this important and emotional show.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Describe the inner beauty and artist in yourself or someone you know. When have you shown compassion to someone who is shunned by society?