“The Elephant Man” holds a mirror to society

People walk around submerged in the truth of society all their lives but like the act of breathing, they do not, but for rare personal moments, take notice.

With his script “The Elephant Man,” Bernard Pomernace polished a great mirror showing not only the grotesque nature in which society tortures its members who are deemed deformed or unfit, but also each person’s struggle to conform at various levels.

Right on cue, UAA’s theater department has grasped the spirit of the play and run with it.

Leaving behind theater’s traditional drive to capture “realism” through pounds of makeup and tons of props, this crew has deliciously interpreted “The Elephant Man” through a beautiful marriage of acting and aural-visual effects. The result is a healthy symbiosis of interpretive art and scathing social critique.

The music transitions were bumpy at moments. However, the splicing of old century piano melodies with haunting sound effects in addition to the projection screen’s display of creepy image stills and short video clips did more to drive home the themes of Pomernace’s story than any “realistic” stage set could have. If Nine Inch Nails were to come to UAA, I would write them and suggest that our technical crew be allowed to help Reznor design his set.

This chilling industrial-esque style was also applied to the manner in which the actors presented themselves to the audience. The Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick (Shane Reeves), wore simple, baggy grey clothes and no make up, but relied completely – and skillfully – on his movements and posture to portray the immense physical deformities that afflicted the real-life Merrick.

While Dr. Treves (Micah Borer) recited the grocery list of observations describing the manifested disorder, archived photographs of the real Elephant Man flashed on the screen behind them.

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The transformation of actor Eric Hayden into the elderly, painfully refined and discerning Englishman Dr. Gomm was truly amazing. Grumm is the head of the London hospital that Treves takes Merrick to for shelter and examination.

Also meriting mention was Christian Gold’s breath of life into the spirited Mrs. Kendal, who was Merrick’s only true female friend.

Best of all perhaps is the grand finale of the show. It is the point where we all realize that Pomernace’s mirror is double sided, and like stepping into Wonderland, everything we just witnessed is torn inside out. There we are left inside the belly of the beast, looking out from the entrails of the society of which we are all captive residents.

The parting gift that stays with the audience long into the night is a strong realization; not only does the Elephant Man, possess the same strengths and emotions like each of us, but we are all like him, trying to conform and not pay attention to these very discrepancies that make us who we are.