BY TARA McCARTHY

Tackling Bernard Pomerance’s play, The Elephant Man, is a huge undertaking. From the rich script filled with emotion and tender subject matter, to the seemingly abbreviated scenes that connect to tell the true tale.

And Moving Parts Theatre’s production fairs well on certain aspects, but lacks an all-encompassing sense of despair and compassion.

The 1979 play is set in the Victorian era and profiles the true story of a man named Joseph Merrick (referred to as John in the play). Merrick is an Englishman subjected to a tragic life of workhouses and freak shows due to his unexplainable deformed figure. His aesthetic diversity is shunned by society, yet strikes a chord with a surgeon who sees the human in him.

Undoubtedly, the casting of Winluck Wong in the title role is the most engaging part of the 90-minute production. Wong’s consistent attention to detail brings the character of John Merrick to life.

Playing the horribly disfigured Englishman is presumably not an easy task. And sans the disguise of make-up or props, Wong literally transforms to portray the man with honesty and accuracy.

A notable scene involves Merrick and Dr. Frederick Treves (played by Ely Boivin) as the surgeon introduces the extent of Merrick’s deformities to the audience. Done with simple lighting and smooth modifications by Wong, the scene presents the differences between the man and the so-called monster.

Boivin, who is new to the stage and relatively new to Moving Parts Theatre, was faced with the difficult task of conveying an immense amount of emotion through the Dr. Treves character. Alas, his attempts are valiant, but fall a bit flat due to his stiff stature and often-indiscernible delivery of passion.

A few of the Moving Parts players fall into this trap, feeling the need to exaggerate in order to invoke the play’s deep sense of emotion. And while some scenes left the audience in complete attentive silence, other scenes’ motives were unclear.

Sean Hopkins portrayal of Carr Gomm begins with strength, but borders on exaggerated as the play continues. Hopkins should, however, be applauded for his efforts to always remain in character.

In the role of Ross, the selfish and monetary-minded manager of the Elephant Man, Mike Ivens delivers with fine range. Scenes from beginning to end with Merrick are well played and inevitably resonate a prime example of the drama’s emotional arc.

Sophia Marnik is strong in her role as Mrs. Kendal, an actress brought in to befriend Merrick. Marnik provides a splash of humour to the play and her scenes with Wong are perhaps some of the most potent moments of character-to-character dialogue. Both persistently stay in character, while connecting with one another verbally and physically to convey the play’s humanity.

Simple staging and delicate lighting are also a strong suit of the production. Director Anton Solomon’s use of a centre stage catwalk helps create a flow within the play, allowing characters to come and go with ease.

The lighting helps to differentiate between each vignette of the story, although the timing in connection with the actors was a bit off at times, leaving performers uncomfortably frozen on stage waiting for their next cue.

As Solomon admits, the cast is filled with amateur and veteran players. And while some achieved an engaging presence on the stage, others have room to grow. That’s one of the key elements of community theatre and Moving Parts Theatre specifically – the opportunity to build one’s self into an actor, play by play.

The Elephant Man runs to Nov. 22 at Wood Street Centre. Tickets are available at Well-Read Books.

PHOTO: RICK MASSIE massierick@hotmail.com