BENCHMARK THEATRE: 10/8-10/30
A world premiere Devised Work, Developed by Abner Genece, Candace Joice and Neil Truglio
L-R: Dan O'Neill and Nnamdi K. Nwankwo
Let me just say at the get-go that Benchmark Theatre’s ELEPHANT is the most important new work to have been seen by this reviewer in memory.
Using a timely truism, Benchmark builds a metaphor for racial bigotry upon the current expression: “elephant in the room.”
Hanging loosely upon the armature of your memories of the play/movie, “The Elephant Man,” the contrasts in this production outweigh the comparisons by far.
The Merrick of this play is not misshapen or disfigured in any way. Indeed, he is a tall, handsome, muscular black man. Articulate and dignified in his speech and demeanor, he is seen to have more knowledge of Shakespeare and the Bible than either the self-aggrandizing Frederick Treves or the publicity-seeking Madge Kendal.
Nnamdi K. Nwankwo’s performance as John Merrick is utterly and brilliantly natural.
New to this reviewer, Courtney Esser is luminous as the hypocritical socialite Madge Kendal.
Dan O’Neill exhibits the onstage excellence we have come to expect of him as know-it-all Frederick Treves, doctor and intellectual a la side show hawker.
Both Mr. O’Neill and Ms. Esser perform their characters in such a way as to hold up the mirror to the appalling, nightmarish nature of white supremacy regarding the abuse, negligence and exploitation of black people. Their performances illuminate the ignorant ‘unnaturalness’ of those who have sometimes been referred to as “the deplorables.”
You don’t have to be a student of neuro linguistic programming to recall what a shock to the nervous system it is to see the swirl of red and blue lights in the rear-view mirror accompanied by a wailing siren. The nervous system goes on high alert accompanied by a clenched stomach. Why? No one likes to get a speeding ticket. And what if you had a glass of wine with dinner? Additional stress.
Now imagine the exponentialized stress a black man or woman experiences with the lights and siren, when the possibility of death hangs in the balance.
It is this degree of awareness that ELEPHANT drives home in multiple ways; not the least of which is the excellence of its sound (Marc Stith) and lighting designs.
Elephant asks us not only to observe these atrocities, but to feel them, and to engage in creating change.
This is a rich work that makes a reviewer hold back from unleashing spoilers and describing this new work in too great of detail. You deserve the freedom to experience it for yourself.
ELEPHANT is powerful social commentary and what this reviewer regards as Great Art. It was an honor to see it.
Benchmark Theatre is located at 1560 Teller Street in Lakewood. For tickets call 303-519-9059 or go online at www.benchmarktheatre.com