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Theater review: 'The Elephant Man' at Theatre 68

April 5, 2012 | 10:22 am

"The Elephant Man"
Any production of "The Elephant Man," Bernard Pomerance's 1979 Tony winner about the severely deformed individual who became Victorian society's darling, depends upon the actor playing doomed title curiosity Joseph (a.ka. John) Merrick. The current revival at Theatre 68 features the remarkable Babar Peerzada, who evokes the grotesquerie without prosthetics in an impressive fusion of physical control and unforced pathos.

Other excellent turns adorn this Grimy Corps presentation. Jeny Batten gives actress/confidante Mrs. Kendal easy warmth beneath the dry grandeur. If Chris Payne Gilbert takes some time to register the contradictions of Frederick Treves, the doctor who rescues Merrick from degradation, his clipped understatement is apt. Ron Bottitta, Nicholas Caballero, Kimberly Condict, Jamie Harris and Paulie Rojas are proficient in multiple roles, from sideshow freaks to crowned heads.

Whenever director Reid Scott zeros in on Merrick's childlike, hypocrisy-skewing candor -- "If your mercy is so cruel, what do you have for justice?" -- or highlights the irony of his artistic bent and romantic imagination, things crackle, with the Mrs. Kendal scenes and Treves' transferal nightmare worth the whole.

Less effective is the technical handling of Pomerance's central carnival-versus-civilization metaphor, which reads almost showcase-night perfunctory on designer Joel Daavid's serviceable but undistinguished set, though Max Smith's period costumes have some oomph. The uneven tenor of the scene transitions doesn't exactly transport, and the abruptly inserted, tension-breaking intermission is ill advised.

Nonetheless, it's hard to ignore the fine work of Peerzada and his peers. Fans and students of the property may decide that this outstrips any rudimentary inequities of execution.


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More theater reviews from the Los Angeles Times

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 -- David C. Nichols

"The Elephant Man," Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Suite D, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 6. $30. (323) 960-7735 or Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Photo: Babar Peerzada as John Merrick and Jeny Batten as Mrs. Kendal in "The Elephant Man." Credit: Aaron Brownlee.