Wayland theatre to stage story of John Merrick

Wayland Baptist University Theatre will perform the popular drama The Elephant Man at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28 and March 1 and 2 in the Harral Studio Theatre on the Plainview campus.

The play is based on the true story of John Merrick, a man who lived in England during the Victorian period.

"Merrick had a debilitating physical deformity that defied medical explanation, for the most part," explained Dr. Marti Runnels, theatre director at Wayland. "In Victorian England, unfortunately, he ended up in the freak shows and spent a good deal of the beginning of his life there."

Eventually, Merrick is discovered by a London doctor who is fascinated by his condition and with finding help for him. He died in 1894 at the age of 27. His bones were kept for years for medical study.

Runnels said Merrick's story, while marked by heartache, has other facets that make the play intriguing.

"It also deals, in a powerful way, with the way a person in even the darkest circumstances looks to God," he said. "It's very much a play about spiritual journeys."

The play, by Bernard Pomerance, was based in part on Dr. Frederick Treves' memoirs, titled "The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences," written in 1923. The play opened in London in the 1970s and played on Broadway in 1979. Since then, it's been performed numerous times and was made into a movie in 1980.

Runnels said Wayland's production will make use of original slides of Merrick used in the London production. The director also chose to forego traditional background music, securing the talents of Dr. Ann Stutes, assistant professor of music at Wayland, on the viola.

"It will provide an aesthetic to match the Victorian era, and the religious themes in the music and the plaintive sounds will almost be like another character in the play," Runnels said.

The one-act play is short in length - about 80 minutes - and Runnels said scenes flow rapidly like film. Cory Norman, a senior from Lubbock, will play the lead role of Merrick. Runnels said the role is particularly challenging because of Merrick's deformities.

"Playing Merrick is one of the most physically demanding roles because the actor has to be contorted throughout the production," he said. "We'll be using exercises, massages, heating pads and other things to keep Cory from becoming deformed himself during the play, which is possible."

Other cast members include Teresa Moore, playing Mrs. Kendall; Jerrell Otwell, playing the orderly; April Langehennig, playing Miss Sandwich; David Howle, playing Carr Gomm and The Conductor; Chris Moore, playing Dr. Treves and a Belgian policeman; Brandon Campanella, playing Ross, Bishop How and Snork; Tisa Whitfill, playing a pinhead and Dutchess; Lorraine Chavez, playing a pinhead and Countess; Lori Stanley, playing a pinhead and Princess; and Billy Boone, playing the pinhead manager, a London policeman, Lord John and the porter.

Wayland will perform the play as its entry in the Christian University Theatre Festival to be held at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene in March.

Tickets for The Elephant Man are $7 for adults and $3 for students college age and below. Reservations can be made by calling the box office at 291-1089.