Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Gives ‘The Elephant Man’ a Human Touch

Review by Chris Payne of The Elephant Man: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Giles Davies and Kelly Mengelkoch in "The Elephant Man"
Giles Davies and Kelly Mengelkoch in “The Elephant Man”

The Elephant Man is a story of humanity, isolation and the ability to see beyond the superficial to the true character of a person. CSC’s production of The Elephant Man is a brilliant portrayal of the importance and depth of human relationships and is absolutely a must-see.

I was eagerly anticipating the physicality of the show’s title character, John Merrick/The Elephant Man, and Giles Davies’ performance is completely captivating. The opening scene shows the transition of a straight-backed and shirtless Merrick into a bent and distorted figure. Davies’ physical commitment to this role is only matched by the sweetness, vulnerability and often-humorous nature he brings to this remarkable performance. Brent Vimtrup as Frederick Treves plays opposite Davies and offers the audience another perspective on the effects of internal struggles with humanity and morality. Vimtrup beautifully illustrates the journey and transformation of Frederick Treves from an intellectual, savior, teacher, and moral guide to a jealous, judgmental and overwhelmed caretaker. The arc of this character creates much of the conflict and adds to the show’s dynamic character study. While Treves may have been Merrick’s original savior, it is Mrs. Kendel (Kelly Mengelkoch) who is the first to truly value Merrick for what he is, a human being. Mengelkoch lights up the stage and the story with a genuine and heartfelt characterization that never serves to pity Merrick or his condition. The rest of the ensemble displays their talent and versatility with many of them portraying two or three different roles.

Shannon Moore’s (Scenic Designer) set is simple in appearance while playing a profound role in this production. It is a stationary set with a balcony that wraps around the sides and back of the stage. Ensemble members and audience members in lab coats line the balcony to establish the constant prying looks that Merrick experienced his whole life while its raised position represents the physical and emotional distance between Merrick and society. Justen N. Locke’s (Lighting Designer) lighting of the show is superb and utilizes spots in several scenes to further indicate the isolation of Merrick in his turmoil. The balcony surrounds a projection screen at center stage that is utilized to both establish various locations and assist in scene transitions with projected images, quotes and historical photographs. The screen also represents the walls of Merrick’s room in London Hospital where Merrick is housed for the last four years of his life and where the majority of the show takes place. This screen is a great representation of the curtain of privacy that has been present at every stage of Merrick’s life. Every element of this show is wonderfully executed and tied together with Brian Isaac Phillips’ (Director) direction. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of The Elephant Man will be a highlight of a fully remarkable theatre season. The Elephant Man runs through November 5. Tickets are available through