Richard and I saw *The Elephant Man* on Broadway on 12/18. I’ve seen the movie a few times but had never seen the play - - I figured it was worth seeing, especially with this cast: Bradley Cooper as Merrick (aka The Elephant Man), Patricia Clarkson as the actress, and Alessandro Nivola as the doctor. My friend Carolyn and her husband saw this same production in Williamstown a couple summers ago and they raved about it, so that made it even more promising.
John Hurt played Merrick in the movie, and they put all kinds of prosthetics and crap on him to make him look like Merrick. They don’t do anything like that in the play, you just see the actor onstage embodying Merrick’s deformities. It’s a real tour de force role.
The show was beautiful. It’s such a touching, heart-breaking show - - I spent almost the entire first act crying. Not crying very hard, but crying pretty much the whole time. You know how I love to observe audience behavior - - like when I saw *August: Osage County” on Broadway and counted three moments where the audience let out a collective gasp. That thrills me like nothing else. This show had the sweetest example of that, in the scene where Merrick first meets Mrs. Kendal, the grande dame of the English stage. He says, “My head is so large because it is so full of dreams.” And the audience let out a collective, “Oh!” A quiet one, a rapturous one.
Cooper was wonderful as Merrick. He reminded me a bit of Meryl Streep playing Julia Child: she started with an impersonation of Julia Child, but went the extra mile and really gave a performance, in some ways it was a role like any other and she had to communicate the emotional journey of the character. Cooper did the same thing. The most visible part of his performance were the contortions of his body and voice, but you ended up seeing beyond that, you (like the characters in the play) saw past Merrick’s challenges and saw the tender, intelligent, wounded person underneath.
Nivola was very strong as the doctor. It’s not a very gratifying role, but he gave a first rate performance, and he had good chemistry with the other actors. Clarkson was delightful as the actress. She makes the most of her character’s jumping between performing and being - - some of the most touching moments of the play are when she drops her guard and shows her true, sincere self.
The voters for the Tony Awards have a very short memory - - remember that magnificent production of *Betrayal* I saw last fall, with Daniel Craig? That got no nominations at all, because it had closed months before the nominations were made. I hope this show doesn’t suffer the same fate, it’s so deserving.