By Bernard Pomerance
October 13 – 30, 2016
Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET), Colorado Springs, CO
Credit: Director, Executive Producer
The Elephant Man is one of the first plays saw when I was a kid, and its themes continue to resonate with me. I have a fascination with how we treat each other and especially how we treat people different than ourselves. In Bernard Pomerance’s excellent script, Merrick helps us see some paradoxes inherent in our acts of altruism, religion, and charity. He gives us reasons to question our expressions of sexuality and how we choose a lover. At the same time, Merrick makes us wonder if there’s anyone we’re taking for granted in our own life. At the center of everything is the ultimate dilemma, how do we reconcile what we can’t control?
One of the difficulties of putting on a play like The Elephant Man is that theatre companies produce it so often, many theatregoers have already seen it. We put it up not too long after Bradley Cooper finished his run on Broadway as Merrick in 2015. Before Cooper, plenty of other well-known actors have taken their turn, including John Hurt who was also in the 1980 David Lynch film with Anthony Hopkins as Treves. So we wanted to create a version of this show no one had ever seen.
Another challenge was the size of the space at Springs Ensemble Theatre. The intimate size of the theatre, just 26×27 feet, meant that without doubling roles, we would have to cram 20 actors into limited space. On top of that, locations spanning from England to Belgium, inside and outside the hospital, and other places around London. We had no choice but to simplify. Bri, my co-producer and assistant director, and scenic designer (we always wear a lot of hats at SET) collaborated to make the world in which our actors create the play.
It was incredible to work with such a talented group of designers and actors. Micah brought Merrick to life in a most compelling way. Jude was an incredible Treves.
Our version ended up as a play within a play. Our cast became a troupe of American actors in the late 1890s touring the rugged mountain towns of Colorado. When they heard the story of Joseph Merrick, they created a play showing what they think happened in the London Hospital. Our audiences witnessed their stop in Colorado Springs around the year 1897, joined by The Rogue spirits, of course.
I hope you enjoy this production and that you come away with questions and insight into how you would respond both to Merrick and if you were Merrick. We are all flawed and flawless in our ways, and we often spend time trying to fix things that aren’t broken and will all have to face our mortality at some point. The Elephant Man helps bring those questions to light and helps us find the answers within ourselves. Enjoy!
Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole
Or grasp the ocean with a span,
I would be measured by the soul;
The mind’s the standard of the man.
—Poem used by Joseph Merrick to end his letters, adapted from “False Greatness” by Isaac Watts