“The Elephant Man” at The Warehouse Theatre

On Friday evening Eliza and I attended the second show of The Warehouse Theatre’s 2011-2012 season.  The Show was “The Elephant Man” by Bernard Pomerance, as directed by Brian Haimbach.  It will be running at The Warehouse Theatre through October 29th.

“The Elephant Man” is a drama about the life and challenges of one John Merrick (real name Joseph), a late 19th century man inflicted with a strange  and severe deformity that rendered his entire body almost completely unrecognizable as human. There is still a lot of debate about what specifically inflicted Mr. Merrick, and from a historical perspective the man is a curiosity as well as a kind of tragedy.

As a play “The Elephant Man” approached the matter of this severely deformed individual from a fascinating perspective.  No makeup or prosthesis are used on the actor portraying Merrick.  Instead he uses his posture and speech to demonstrate a difference. The effect of a normal looking (even handsome) individual portraying a person who looked so radically alien, as to be almost terrifying, is fascinating.  As the audience we are not distracted by appearances in this way, but instead can focus on the broader merit of the individual behind the deformities.  We are provided a unique opportunity to empathize with Merrick, whereas, if we were to view him in his natural physical form likely, and unfortunately, we’d be distracted by appearances.

It is no coincidence, I think, that so much of the play focuses on Merrick as a mirror to the human condition.  What many of us in the audience may not realize as the play progresses, is that the mirror is being held up to us as well.  As a species we are all incredibly fascinated, to the point of being obsessed, by appearance.  So much so in fact that we are willing to spend great amounts of time, energy, and resources on the attainment of what is consider good and beautiful appearance.  John Merrick, in the play and in history, had no such leisure.  So extreme and unique was his physical condition that he was forced to live in a world where he would always be the outsider. However,  with a mind capable of human thought and contemplation just a well as any other person, he was able to deconstruct much of this illusory ideals of appearance.  He forces the other characters and the audience alike to ask “what is real beauty?”

I think it would be easy to call “The Elephant Man” a tragedy, and it certainly has its sad moments, but I think that calling it such would not give it the credit it deserves.  If anything it is more of a triumph than a real tragedy.  It is a triumph because Merrick was provided an opportunity to be a human beyond his physical condition, and there were people around him who were willing to look beyond face value to find the person who deserved this opportunity.  While all is not easy or happiness, I think it is better to take “The Elephant Man” as a story of success even in adversity.  Merrick was never immortal or immune to the fatal human condition.  The odds were against him from the start.  However, with some kindness and great effort he was capable of living something with a semblance of normalcy.  That is what I’d call a triumph.

As always, the acting and directing at The Warehouse Theatre was superb.  I always feel like it is such a gift to have this lovely theatre here in Greenville.  It is easy to lump a lot of the praise on the performance of Merrick himself (and it was certainly wonderful acting), but a lot of credit goes to the supporting cast as well, as so much of the progress of the story relies on them and theirs.

The set design, like much of what I’ve seen at The Warehouse Theatre was simple and minimal.  I always tend to think that this is a good thing.  I’ve seen plays with very elaborate sets, and while there can be benefits in fanciful designs and vast number of props, I often find that they can be distracting and take away from the actors and the stories as a whole.  I feel that the set should always support, but not overpower, the story and actors.  As such I thought that the simple design for “The Elephant man” worked wonderfully, in creating an atmosphere and environment through which the story moved flawlessly.  I was particularly interested in the blue shadow lighting, that contrasted so expertly with the softer and warmer highlights.  It reminded that even in the moments of great compassion and kindness, the human condition, for Merrick and all the other characters, is still rough and cold and challenging.

As I think I have mentioned before how I am always pleased with performances at The Warehouse Theatre.  I’ve yet to see anything that left me disappointed (and hope that I will not even see anything that makes me feel this way).  For those people who enjoy good stage performances at an affordable price ($30 a ticket is really a great deal for the quality the theatre offers) I cannot recommend shows at The Warehouse Theatre enough.  “The Elephant Man” is well worth the watch.  It is a more tangible and accessible play than The Warehouse’s openning 2011-2012 season show “Metamorphoses” but it is still apt to provoke many thoughts and emotions.  If you are in and around Greenville before October 29th go ahead and check it out.  I think you will enjoy it.

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~ by Nathaniel on October 17, 2011.

6 Responses to ““The Elephant Man” at The Warehouse Theatre”

  1. Great review of The Elephant Man, Lord!

  2. Loved reading this – it is always so nice to see what someone thinks of a story after they experience it – thanks for sharing your thoughts on the production.

    • Thanks for reading and your comment. I always enjoy processing a play after seeing it. Trying to think more about the story as a whole beyond the initial experience of sitting in the audience.

  3. So glad you enjoyed. Great thoughts and observations.

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