One of the first theater productions to open at Sarah Lawrence in 2011, the upcoming Body Electric-organized staging of Bernard Pomerance’s Elephant Man will open at the Downstage Theater on Friday, March 4th (and will also play the following evenings, March 5th and 6th). Zach Tomlinson is directing the production, with first-year Malcolm Barker-Kamps playing Joseph Merrick, the physically deformed lead. I recently spoke to Barker-Kamps about the upcoming production, his role as Merrick, and David Bowie’s pantless rendition circa 1980. Elephant Man, based on the life of Joseph Merrick (August 5 1862- April 11 1890), tells the story of a young man rejected by many, exploited by some, cared for by few, and loved by one.
One of the big questions surrounding this show is how to demonstrate the physical deformities of Merrick: to what extent is the visual necessary to create the desired sense of character? Productions of this work have taken different approaches, but Barker-Kamps said that in this production, his makeup will be minimal. “[It is] partly symbolic, but there is also a practical element,” he said of the decision. To recreate Merrick’s deformities would be an enormous use of time and resources. The choice to leave Barker-Kamps plaster-free certainly will add a humanizing element to his character. When asked about the experience of playing this role, Barker-Kamps said, “it’s more physically taxing [than other roles] in that I always have to be contorted.” As an actor, he not only has to be tuned in to the emotional nuances of his character but also hyper-aware of how he carries his body and consciously limits his range of motion.
Of the production, why we should see it, and how he identifies with the character, Barker-Kamps said, “[This story] touches everyone. Everyone has had their Elephant Man moments, as well as those friends and family that have shown them their inner beauty.”
Image from: piccsy.com