This group is for members of Ryan Donovan’s discussion sections in Hunter College’s Spring 2015 Introduction to Theatre course.
Elephant Man Review
- March 21, 2015 at 12:51 pm #1766
The Elephant Man
On a cold Thursday night I attended a performance of The Elephant Man at the Booth Theatre located on 45th St in the heart of the Broadway district. I didn’t think much of the theatre space expect that it felt smaller than most other theatres I had been in. I filed into my seat in the orchestra section and took into account that my seat was on the end closest to one of the wall of the theatre but it still provided a good view of the entire stage. The stage was a proscenium setting and the set for the play was minimal with only a few drastic scene changes. Throughout the performance of the play I was completely floored by the acting style and the way the play was directed and brilliantly staged. For my first real Broadway play I have to admit that I was enamored by the writing and the acting style of Bradley Cooper.
I didn’t expect much of the play to begin with because I was under the impression that the actor playing John Merrick aka The Elephant Man would be decked out in stage makeup to make his performance seem real, but instead the director opted for a different idea. Bradley Cooper was to portray John Merrick without any stage makeup but with body movements and pure acting skills. The moment that proved Bradley Cooper’s acting skills and the idea that stage makeup was not the best way to portray John Merrick was at the end of the first act, when John starts to cry out of anguish and agony because people see him as more of a thing to stare at, then as an actual person with thoughts and feelings. The way he cried filled me with such overwhelming sadness that I began to feel for the man that was John Merrick. His cries of anguish didn’t just affect me because when the lights came up again audience members all around me began drying their eyes. That display of acting shows the transformation of the actor into a character and the focus that Cooper exhibited gave the play real depth and emotion that it moved the audience to tears.
Another moment that presented a component of what I learned in class was the audience reaction to certain moments in the performance. During the performance one of the primary characters had cracked a joke and there was hesitant in the audience whether or not to laugh at said joke. After a few moments of hesitant laughter from a few audience members the rest of the audience joined in on the laughter. This made me think about the hesitance of the audience to participate in the performance even if it was laughing at joke that a character had made. It could’ve been the dramatic change to realism in the last century but I also believe the hesitance had to do with the overall feeling or theme of the play. The Elephant Man deals with heavy themes since it is about the harsh life of John Merrick. It has moments of deep sadness and seriousness so this might have led to the hesitance of the audience, if the audience had expected lighthearted moments than I feel the audience would’ve been more comfortable with laughing along with the funny joke that the character made.
After that most audience reaction was minimal until the end of the performance but another moment that stood out to me was the scene that I had to hold my breath for. In Act 2 John Merrick is trying to convince his friend and colleague Ms. Madge Kendal, portrayed by Patricia Clarkson, that he needs a mistress and how he would like for Ms. Kendal to be his. She denies his request but in exchange, disrobes for him because Merrick has claimed to have never seen a woman’s naked body. Nothing about this scene felt crude but it seemed for the moment everyone, including myself, didn’t breathe until the scene had ended. I can’t quite place what exactly made me hold my breath but I have a strong feeling it was because of the intensity of the scene itself. Between the actors all their movements were slowed as if they were trying slow the moment and milk it for as long as they could. I remember I couldn’t see Merrick’s reaction as Kendal disrobed because however long the moment felt to me and the audience, the moment reached an end when another character intrudes on the scene. The intensity of the scene really stuck with me until the end of the performance and thinking back on it now because of the control and dynamic that the actors had I believe that might have been my favorite scene in the play.
Overall I thought the play was very well done in every aspect. The directing, acting, writing and staging was done beautifully. The play made me feel for the characters which I believe is what theatre is supposed to do to a person: make them feel. The play also made me raise questions to how we treat people with certain disabilities and really understand what they go through each and every day. The Elephant Man gave me a new perspective of how to really treat people and it gave me moments from the performance that enhanced my theatre experience and if I could I would like to relive my experience seeing The Elephant Man.
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