STAFF REPORTER THE HINDU –03 SEPTEMBER
Written by Bernad Pomerance in 1977, the play is based on the life of Joseph Merrick, who suffered from extreme physical deformities and lived in London during the second half of the 19th Century. Afflicted by a rare skin and bone disease, Merrick was first paraded around as a star attraction in a travelling show before being admitted to the renowned Whitechapel Hospital in London.
With support from Frederick Treves, a young physician at the hospital, Merrick was slowly introduced to the higher strata of the English society, but his dream of leading a normal life remained unfulfilled.
The play that established Pomerance’s position as a playwright was premiered in 1979 and won him the Tony Award, the New York Drama Critics’ Award, an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, and the outer Critics’ Circle Award. The play was made into a successful Hollywood film in 1980.
In the words of Terry Converse, Professor of Theatre in the Washington State University School of Music and Theatre Arts, who is co-directing the Lokadharmi production along with Chandradasan (the art director of Lokadharmi), “as Merrick becomes the toast of Victorian society, his ambitious saviours are confronted with deformities of their own souls.”
The encounter with Merrick, the elephant man, also made the Victorian society aware of the masks it put on in interpersonal relations. “Merrick’s lack of mask — his lack of protection — ironically made him less “freakish” than many of the more “protected” people who interacted with him.” At another dimension, the play is also about empathy and sensitivity, evoked when one encounters those affected by personal tragedies.
Dr. Converse, who teaches direction and specialises in use of masks in theatre, is on a Full Bright scholarship to work with Lokadharmi for six months. “Depending on the pace of the work, we are expecting to stage the production in three to four months. We need nearly 25 actors for the play, who will be selected through audition,” said Mr. Chandradasan, who has started the translation of the play. The production will be done in Malayalam under the title “Gajamanushyan.”