The Elephant Man, the story about the life of Joseph Merrick, would be a horrible tragedy if the play by Bernard Pomerance didn’t let the wisdom, grace, and surprising humor of the seemingly unblessed man shine through.
The Elephant Man is the immensely compelling Thursday Night Theater Club’s production presented at the El Portal Theatre in NoHo from Thursday, April 4 to Sunday, April 14. It is a tale of how Merrick (played by Tom Vitorino), a grotesquely disfigured man, is rescued from a London sideshow by Dr. Frederick Treves (played by John Ralston Craig), and how they are both transformed by the experience.
Also forever changed by meeting Merrick is a celebrated actress of the 1800s era, Mrs. Kendal (played by Alice L. Walker). Her interactions with Merrick take on a spirit of Beauty and “The Beast.” Walker embraces that idea and said, “There are many fairytale and biblical elements in The Elephant Man. The parallel with Beauty and The Beast lies in the way each character who meets Merrick must face their own prejudgements—the beast—as they discover the wisdom and grace, the beauty, beyond his condition. In doing so, the audience is put into the same reflective position.”
‘Life is funny, and so is tragedy at times. And so is the truth, when artfully told.’–Alice L. Walker
The most rewarding aspect of playing Mrs. Kendal was also the biggest challenge, Walker reported. “I constantly wrestle with wanting to play Mrs. Kendal as a savior, as if doing so could rewrite history. Then I remember that Bernard Pomerance wove such a brilliant tapestry of the human condition, and I am struck with how by just surrendering to the good, bad and ugly parts on display in The Elephant Man, I am forced to confront my own levels of empathy.”
Audiences love the Mrs. Kendal character, seeing the drama and humor unfold through her eyes. Walker urges people to see The Elephant Man because, “I believe that the collusion of the beautiful writing, the depth of craft of all the performances, the haunting cello, the gorgeous original costumes and sets—all transport the audience to a different time, and in moments into a dream and a miracle. This sort of theater is why I love to go to see theater…to be carried away. I promise you, this show will carry you away while also begging the questions which are absolutely grounded in the balance between human-ness and our highest self. Also, this play is funny. I wouldn’t have thought so, but we hold for laughter quite a bit and it is quite the unexpected surprise. Life is funny, and so is tragedy at times. And so is the truth, when artfully told.”
“The Elephant Man,” directed by Robyn Cohen, is on stage Thursday, April 4 through Sunday, April 14. For information and tickets go to ElPortalTheatre.com or visit the El Portal Theatre box office at 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in the heart of North Hollywood’s NoHo Arts District. Now offering 20 percent discount on tickets to Tolucan Times readers by using code: TOLUCAN on ElPortalTheatre.com. For information about Thursday Night Theater Club go to ThursdayNightTheaterClub.com.