Director gets debut, theater celebrates 31st anniversary with ‘Elephant Man’


“The Elephant Man” features, back row, from left, Jovan Gauthier as Bishop How, Dan Kahn as Frederick, Cindy Lasley as Mrs. Sandwich and Shamrock McShane as Carr Gomm; and seated, from left, Scot Davis as John Merrick and Kiri Cutts as Mrs. Kendal.

MATT STAMEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 1:37 p.m.

The New Year wrestles in new beginnings, and the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre is kicking off its new season with a show about one man hoping for just that.

Facts

‘The Elephant Man’

What: The story of a deformed man in 19th century London.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 23
Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St.
Tickets: $10, $8 for students and seniors; available at Book Gallery West or at the door.
Info: 538-5516 or www.acrosstown.org.

“The Elephant Man” is the story of the tragically deformed John Merrick, who aspires to go from sideshow freak show to normal man.

This will be the first play of the Acrosstown’s 2011 season, which marks the 31st anniversary of the Gainesville theater. The production also is the first stage play to be directed by Michael McShane, and it’s one he knew he wanted to take on in that position.

“It’s the humane tale of taking this one person, who was supposed to be this freak, this abnormality, in the Victorian age and making him human,” McShane says. “Ultimately, though, the freak show happens around him; the people around him are the freaks, and he’s the most human.”

The cast and crew have been rehearsing for the show since early November, but McShane has been prepping since last spring when he first got hold of the script for “The Elephant Man.” He was instantly attracted to it and pitched it to the theater.

While this may be his first time as director with the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, McShane has been playing many parts since the mid-1990s, starting with tech work with his father, Shamrock McShane, when he was 8 years old, then moving into lighting, design and acting.

The transition from stagehand to director came easier than expected for McShane, but to that, he credits the cast.

“I have confident and competent actors who can just take these characters and run with them,” McShane says.

There’s another first for McShane with this show: It’s also the first time he’ll be directing his father and close friend, Scot Davis, who are both in “The Elephant Man” and have worked extensively with McShane on previous theatrical productions.

“He’s like a son to me,” says Davis, who plays John Merrick, the lead role, about Michael McShane. “You would think that would put extra pressure on him, but it doesn’t.”

When McShane was putting together the cast, there was no doubt that his father would fit into the mix as Carr Gomm, the head of the hospital. A similar confidence wasn’t there with Davis who would be playing John Merrick — at least in the beginning.

“I was uncertain first about casting him,” McShane says. “But he has a totally different take on the elephant man. He brings a lot that people who normally play this role don’t bring.”

Davis has an added challenge playing someone with facial disfigurements, but aside from the physical attributes, he sees a lot of Merrick in himself and learned even more about his outlook on life.

“It’s not about what happens to you,” Davis says. “It’s how you react to what happens to you.”

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