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The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance

The Elephant Man (1979)

by Bernard Pomerance

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I'll have to put this in the category of plays much better than it reads. If I had been a producer or director reading this play for the first time, I probably would have given it a pass. It's hard to see the impact and the power from the rather simplistic plot and poorly developed characters. In reading this particular work, I come to understand how much of a role having the right people performing your play can do. In the reading, it sounds stunted and even silly. If I had not seen it performed, this probably would not persuade me to go to a performance. ( )
  Devil_llama | Aug 26, 2015 |
Last year, I finally watched the David Lynch film; and as I did with a few other movies last year, thought I would also read the book. However, then I learned that the play had no connection with Lynch's film other than the subject matter, so I put it off. Of course, since the play and the film are based on a real person, the structures of both are similar enough that I could have followed up one with the other... Hindsight.

I've actually been sitting on this book for a while, having picked it up from a friend while we were both taking part in a yard sale. It was this and another book of screenplays that I traded him for a DVD box set. Felt like a fair trade.

It's interesting seeing the differences in interpretation between Pomerance and Lynch. I'll eventually read the actual published history that Treves wrote (along with Montagu's book, both mentioned in the play's introductory note) which inspired Pomerance to write this play. ( )
  regularguy5mb | Feb 14, 2015 |
Before the 1980 David Lynch film, there was Bernard Pomerance's 1977 play. The film and play have no connection, the play is an original work completely different from the movie. It won the 1979 Tony Best Play and is currently being revived on Broadway (2014-15). In 2010, the play was adapted as a radio drama, directed by David Hitchenson, which is the source for this review.

Thematically, the play revolves around displaying people as objects of desire, horror, fascination, gain. The elephant man is put on display in a freak-show where people pay to gawk at him. He is rescued by a doctor who, unwittingly, brings in higher-class clientele who pay (in the form of expensive gifts) to "meet" the elephant man in person. The doctor himself benefits professionally from people wishing to see his patient. At some point the elephant man wishes to see his female tutor naked, projecting his sexual desires onto her. This tutor is the key to the play as she alone seems to consciously understand the nature of his predicament, justifying revealing herself because she had seen him naked in pictures. Finally the doctor has a nightmare in which the tables are turned, he is put on display as a medical curiosity and he understands what he has done. In a moment of contrition he confesses, of sorts, to the priest seeking consolation. This is a timeless work and more relevant than ever in this age of the image. I'm not sure the BBC adaption is entirely successful, it's OK if you can piece it together, but would like to see the play performed with live actors which would make the theme of objectifying people for pleasure more powerful (and uncomfortable). ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Dec 18, 2014 |
Audio dramatisation. The stumbling speech of the Elephant man was difficult to understand at first.

The story concerns how Victorian society treated the titular character - a man born with a congenital condition which made him appear like no-one else.

Abandoned to the workhouse as an infant by his mother, the subject was taken and hawked as a freak show attraction by a conman. But when a gentleman scientist examines John, he decides to take him under his wing.
( )
  NRTurner | Sep 4, 2012 |
The Elephant Man, a play by Bernard Pomerance, which is based on the life of a real man, is a very thoroughly depressing story. John Merrick—also known as The Elephant Man due to his physical deformities seems to be an individual who suffers from being a delightful book inside a horrid cover. His personality remains a bit of a mystery throughout the whole play as many of the things the reader learns about him seem to be other people projecting things they themselves are and assuming that is what he is; however, it is acknowledged that he is smart, artistic and kind.
His very existence seems to attract the pity of others and many donate money, so he is able to stay at the hospital until the end of his life. He whiles away the time chatting with his new friends—such as the Bishop and the actress, Ms. Kendal.
Dr. Treves is the one who John Merick has the closest relationship to, perhaps because Treves was the one who brought Merrick to the hospital and the one who allowed him to make his other friends. While their relationship may seem harsh at times, Treves seems to care about Merrick the most he can.
The ending is rather predictable, but any other ending would not really fit with the tone of the play and that would make it far worse than merely predictable.
This play, while disheartening most of the time, is perfectly suitable for a high school library. While certain parts of it may seem risqué, the play itself covers some important themes that people should take to heart, such as “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” MS studentd may have a difficult time with the language used, but those in high school should at least be able to muddle through it. The concepts covered in the play might also be a little hard for MS groups to grasp completely, but for high school students, grades 10 & up it should be perfectly clear. ( )
  liliaabagi | May 10, 2012 |
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A play about a horribly deformed young man in 19th century England who becomes a favorite among the aristocracy and literati.

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