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Message of mercy: Bemidji Community Theater to stage drama ‘The Elephant Man’

From left to right are Steven Mayer, Amanda Mix and Steve Saari, who will all perform in Bemidji Community Theater's presentation of "The Elephant Man," which opens Friday, Feb. 3, at the Historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Director Julie Kaiser is hoping to deliver a timeless message of benevolence with Bemidji Community Theater’s presentation of “The Elephant Man” by Bernard Pomerance.

Performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. starting Friday, Feb. 3 and continuing on Saturday, Feb. 4 and Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11 at the Historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. There will be Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Feb. 5 and Feb. 12.

“The Elephant Man” explores the last years of Joseph “John” Merrick, a deformed man in Victorian England, who became the toast of London society as well as the subject of medical examination and display, according to a press release from the theater.

It is the directorial debut for Kaiser, who has been on stage for more than 40 years and who also has been involved in Bemidji’s theater community for many years.

“The reason why I chose the play is because I think that Merrick’s story asks us, or demands, that we look beyond the superficial and find the dignity and humanity behind all of it,” Kaiser said after a rehearsal on Tuesday evening.

Kaiser said her experience has been challenging, rewarding and frustrating.

“But when I see things starting to come together it’s very, very exciting and humbling to me so I’m really thrilled,” she said.

The play will feature several familiar area actors, including Steven Mayer in the title role and Steve Saari as the Dr. Treves, who rescues him from the freak-show exhibitions.

Mayer has performed in a number of Bemidji Community Theater productions. Saari has a long history of theater but it will be both his first role in Bemidji and in a drama in quite some time.

The cast and crew has worked on “The Elephant Man” for about six weeks and since early December, but took a break during the holidays.

Pomerance’s play debuted in 1979 and won numerous awards and has been revived several times on Broadway, the most recent in 2014 with actor Bradley Cooper playing Merrick.

Tickets to “The Elephant Man” are available at Iverson Corner Drug, Ken K Thompson Jewelry and also at the door one hour prior to showtime. Cost is $12.

“It’s not something that people usually see,” Kaiser said. “We don’t do a lot of drama around here, so we’re hoping that people come.”

The show does contain mature content and is not suited for young children.

Bemidji Community Theater’s next production will be “Dragonsong” at the end of March and early April.

Jillian Gandsey

Jillian Gandsey is the Multimedia Editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is an Iron Range native and a 2013 graduate of Bemidji State University. Follow Jillian on Twitter and Instagram @jilliangandsey. Contact her at 218-333-9786, 218-996-1216 or at 

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