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‘Elephant Man’ belongs to young actor

Drew Lynch is a high school junior with what some might call wholesome, all-American good looks. But he seems to lose his attractiveness in the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts production of "The Elephant Man."

With no obvious makeup, he plays a disfigured man. Under the direction of Terry McGonigle, he gets us to believe not only that he’s physically challenged, but that he’s spiritually dying. Gone is Lynch’s usual youthful exuberance. His soul seems to change with every character he inhabits.

Bernard Pomerance’s 1979 drama takes us to Victorian London, where we meet John Merrick (Lynch). He’s tortured by people horrified at his half-man, half-animal looks. A young physician (Aaron Fentress) sets up a makeshift home for him in a London hospital.

Merrick’s intelligence and charm result in his becoming the darling of society. But while he regularly receives visitors, he remains desperately lonely. An actress (Kerry Warren) comes close to relieving that loneliness, but the physician’s concern with rules, propriety and funding deny Merrick the chance for happiness.

Lynch suggests his deformities with slight movements: a slide of the mouth, a heavy leg, a useless arm. Yet, his work is never mechanical. Despite his character’s limited ability for clear speech, Lynch manages a variety of vocal inflections that reveal Merrick’s sense of humor and torment. He seems to have an intuitive understanding of the role, and you can’t help but wonder how a boy so young can know so much about human behavior.

Unfortunately, there’s an abundance of obviousness in the rest of the 40-member cast. They tend to play single character traits (snobbishness, deviousness) rather than characters. This is in huge contrast to Lynch’s achievement, which is in incorporating many traits to form one three-dimensional human being. I have a hunch many of the performers easily could have come off better with some more coaching. (Was the cast just too big in number for McGonigle to handle?)

McGonigle infuses the production with an attractive spirit of melancholy. His use of cellist David Warner’s sensitive playing between scenes adds immeasurably to the atmosphere. And McGonigle’s costumes offer an unexpected parade of color, which contrasts nicely with the script’s somber tones.

But the evening belongs to Lynch. He makes "The Elephant Man" a sometimes devastating emotional experience. And we never catch him milking our sympathies. I hope Lynch takes care in respecting his talent so that he will more likely become the top-notch professional actor he has the ability to be.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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