Sunday, February 19, 2012

Southern Colony Uprising

I'm on a theater roll this weekend.

On the final day of Theater VCU's production of "The Elephant Man" and with snowflakes continuing to fall, we made our way to the Singleton Center.

Since I'd never seen the movie or play before, I had only a reader's knowledge of the story of John Merrick and his grotesque physical condition.

Set in the late 19th century, the story of how a doctor takes in Merrick to give him some semblance of a normal life and home was all about the irony of a man who couldn't be helped and the rest of the world who choose to do things that cause them suffering and unhappiness they could avoid.

The cast, particulalry Austin Seay as Merrick and Matthew Johnson as the doctor, made it easy to forget that it wasn't a troupe of professionals.

A sign in the lobby had warned us of nudity, which came in the form of the Mrs. Kendall character, an actress the doctor brings in to provide Merrick with a conversational partner.

He has chosen her for her ability to disguise her revulsion at his looks, but she ends up being a trusted and true friend to the man who has never seen a woman naked.

"Real charm is always planned," she tells the doctor before meeting Merrick the first time and after a discussion of how it's not just actresses, but all women, who learn to feel one thing and say another.

Merrick hopes for a mistress because, despite his bone deformities, certain parts work just fine since no bones are involved there.

Genitals are referred to as a "southern colony in need of protection and governance."

All I'm saying is, thank god I wasn't alive in Victorian times.

The kind of repression is part of the big speech the doctor gives near the end, lamenting the "grotesque ailments" he sees due to women wearing corsets.

The diseases he treats because people eat and drink to excess.

The way the more normal Merrick's life seems, the worse his condition gets.

The way people inevitably hasten their own deaths.

In other words, the frustrations of life, whether in the 19th or 21st century.

And completely believable out of the mouths of VCU students' mouths.

Richmond theater, just keep on rolling. I'm right behind you.

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