Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man was quite an interesting play that I had not read or seen in my previous academic studies. Seeing it in its film, performance, and text version definitely provided me with a better understanding of the drama. My understanding was especially increased by attending the performance that the TCU theatre put on. The "dream" scene in elephant man was definitely explained better in the performance. When I was reading the text, it was very confusing as to whose dream it was, and what was going on. The play really illuminates the fact that it is Treves's nightmare where he is being put on display and Merrick is lecturing about his normality and the pain he can inflict on others. This definitely forces Treves into a reflection of his life. When the actor who was playing Merrick, after speaking in a somewhat retarded voice all play, is suddenly speaking fluently in a lecture hall setting, it is clear that he is speaking about Treves. I must admit, I was very shocked when the actor started speaking fluently.
The performance also eliminates some of the limitations of simply reading the text. The emotions and expressions of the characters are better understood by the audience. I thought the interactions between Miss Kendall and John were especially entertaining and illuminating. Both actors did a great job. John's expressions after Miss Kendall shook his hand were of so much happiness, shock, and bewilderment. In the text, Merrick just simply says "thank you for coming" to which Mrs. Kendall says, "But it was my pleasure, thank you". This simply does not show his true emotions from the handshake.
The film version of "The Elephant Man" was very entertaining for me personally. I can't believe how young Anthony Hopkins was for this performance, but he truly did a great job as Treves-what a great actor. The only problem with the film, however, was that it did not follow the text that Bernard Pomerance wrote. The whole debacle with Merrick getting stolen, the watchers destroying Merrick's model and completely harassing him, and the opera/musical/play that they all attended was included in the film, but not was not actually in the text.
The live performance allows for the play to be completely based on the text Pomerance wrote. It is not trying to appeal to a giant, national audience as the film is. The directors of the film could have seen the play as having certain limitations in attracting a sufficient film audience. The additional scenes that I mentioned previously are definitely entertaining and emotionally appealing additions that move the audience. The extensive badgering and persecution of John by the visitors led by the night watchman evokes sympathy and sadness for John in the audience. Also, the fact that this led to his previous owner stealing him away, beating him, and locking him in a cage for not being able to provide him with entertainment money adds to this. The opposite emotions are conjured when Treves, John, and the crew go to the theatre production:

Mrs. Kendall dedicates the performance to him and he receives a standing ovation. His conversation with Treves afterwards shows how truly gratifying an experience it was for John, and how content with his life he is. This is the last experience John has before John dies. It is a truly happy ending for the audience.
Another interesting point that the play really illuminated that the film did not include, was John's intelligent rebuttal of his previous owner Ross's business proposition. He says, "You left me to die. Be satisfied Ross. You've had enough. You kept me like an animal in darkness. You come back and want to rob me again. will you not be satisfied? Now I am a man like others, you want me to return?" John has truly become a man and a full-functioning person in society. He is not owned by others and told what to do, but rather can speak for himself and have control over what is best for himself. The film still portrayed him as very weak, when he is dragged off by Ross. In reality, he has overcome his weaknesses.
In conclusion, being exposed the performance, film, and text of " The Elephant Man" was very beneficial to my understanding of the play. There are advantages and disadvantages of all three, but it was beneficial to me as a student to have experienced them all.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you about the dream sequence. When I was reading I wondered why Merrick could all the sudden speak well. Also, while reading, I had trouble deciding what a dream was and what was real. The live version made this less confusing, and gave me a better insight into the characters of Treves and Merrick better.