The Elephant Man; A Portrait of Dignity

January 30, 2015 7:41 PM

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Bradley Cooper's stupendous rendering of Joseph Merrick in director Scott Ellis' Broadway production of The Elephant Man is painful to watch -- both literally and figuratively. Merrick suffered from either neurofibromatosis type 1 or Proteus syndrome, or some combination of the two, which caused dramatic skin, facial and bodily deformities. Ellis chooses to convey his misshapenness to the audience by presenting large real-life photographs of Merrick. As the photographs are shown early in Act One, the condition is described while Cooper -- devoid of the assistance of makeup and costume -- dramatically contorts his face, hands and body. Cooper remains so drastically contorted throughout the two hour performance that the pain of the true story mirrors the painful rigidity of Cooper's body and face. By the time the curtain dropped, my face felt as heavy as my heart.

This devastating tale of the true-life trajectory of Merrick (born in 1862 in England) begins in 1884 when Merrick is living a miserable life on the road, showcased as the main attraction in a degrading freak sideshow. Merrick eventually meets the surgeon Frederick Treves who takes him on as a patie...

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