The Tooele High School Theater Department will try to cross through boundaries in its upcoming retelling of the nature of freak shows.
Director Scott Henrie said the goal of the THS production of “The Elephant Man” is to stretch students’ abilities and get them, and the audience, to think outside the box. He acknowledged, however, the result might not be the most popular version of the already-difficult work.
“It’s not going to be everybody’s favorite play,” he said. “It’s hard to watch. It’s sad.”
The 1977 play tells the story of Joseph Merrick, known in sideshow rings of the late 19th century as The Elephant Man for his physical deformities. Henrie said the play is typically performed with the actor portraying Merrick donning heavy prosthetics to mimic Merrick’s deformities. But getting inspiration from a production seen at Brigham Young University last year, the Tooele rendition will do just the opposite.
One of the actors playing Merrick, Karl Wegener, will be decked in prosthetics, Henrie said, but the other, Brock Egan, will not. Instead, during the time when Egan’s Elephant Man interacts with other actors, they, not he, will be wearing masks and prosthetics. At other productions of this more “experimental” angle, the Elephant Man has typically been an attractive actor, said Henrie, and this case is no different.
“[Egan] is a good-looking fellow, very much in shape, and perfect for this,” said Henrie. “That’s the idea: What is the concept of the perfect body, what’s normal and what’s freakish. That’s the lines we’re trying to cross, that established ideals are misshapen.”
During the course of the play, the use — or omission — of prosthetics continues to be used as a commentary on the state of the players’ character. This extension of the typical experimental presentation of the show is unique to this production, Henrie said.
“As they accept the Elephant Man as a human being and they show him kindness, then their mask comes off, and that’s something we’re doing that they didn’t do in the other productions, so in the end a lot of them have lost their mask because they show them kindness,” he said. “So my concept is when they’re not seen by the Elephant Man, then their masks are not on, but when they are seen by the Elephant Man they have their masks on until they’re seen as human by him, and then their masks come off.”
“The Elephant Man,” which will be accompanied by a live orchestra comprised of THS students, will open next Tuesday and run through the following Monday, excluding Sunday. All shows begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students, senior citizens and children. They can be purchased at the door or by contacting Henrie by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 833-1978 ext. 2189.