In August, a crane loads the world’s fattest man onto the back of a flatbed truck in Mexico so he can go to the beach for the first time in years.
As he’s hauled through town, people line the streets to watch his immense body glide by.
It would have been lucrative to sell tickets for the event.
However, this is 2008 — not 1862.
Humanity no longer charges for sneak peaks of freaks.
But we still like to stare.
A video of an Indonesian fisherman who was slowly turning into a tree — his body sprouting warty bark-like appendages — got more than 5 million hits on YouTube this year.
It’s this enchanting repulsion that powers Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, at the Wood Street Centre until November 22.
Directed by Anton Solomon, the Moving Parts Theatre production is held together by the honest deformity of Winluck Wong’s Elephant Man, born John Merrick.
When the burlap sack hiding his face is lifted, and the trench coat is removed, Wong stands centre stage, in an area reminiscent of a circus ring, wearing only a pair of loose cotton pants.
Without make-up, masks or props, Wong’s body mysteriously mimics the real Elephant Man’s cruel misshapenness with a simple shift of the shoulders and twist of the mouth.
Obviously comfortable in the monstrous body he’s constructed, Wong is riveting.
And the muffled voice that comes out of his warped mouth is more intelligible, candid and human than those of his co-stars combined.
As Frederick Treves, the surgeon who takes in the Elephant Man after his circus manager abandons him to a mob, Ely Boivin is stilted and awkward.
Although Treves could be successfully played as an awkward young doctor coming to terms with his own humanity and that of his patient’s, Boivin’s inability to listen to his fellow actors before spouting prepared lines frustrates any possible believability or empathy.
Besides Wong, the only person who seems to listen before speaking his lines is Larry Kwiat, who plays two small but beautiful roles — as a policeman, and then a hospital porter who loses his job for innocently objectifying the elephant man.
Too caught up in “acting,” the 10-person cast could have improved the production a hundredfold with one simple direction — listen to each other.
The script is beautifully written, with lines about “perambulating in the London fog,” but much of it is lost through poor delivery and inarticulate bumbles.
If it wasn’t for Wong’s grounded performance, the production could easily spin into an unintelligible and incomprehensible mess.
Mike Ivens, as the Elephant Man’s washed-up manager, looks the part and has a sense for the pitiful scoundrel he plays, but holding something back, he lacks fervour.
Despite its problems, Moving Parts has obviously put a fair bit of work into the production, with a professional set, lighting and costumes.
With no intermission, the production clips along, although long, dark scene changes sap the play’s momentum.
There are several striking images when lighting and Wong’s physically compelling Elephant Man combine to create magic onstage.
Sophia Marnik, as the Elephant Man’s friend and love interest Mrs. Kendal, shares some of these moments with Wong.
Although Marnik would also lend her part more credence by taking a moment to really look at the Elephant Man and listen to what he’s saying to her before jumping into her lines.
The Elephant Man is an important and beautiful story that cuts to the root of humanity’s foibles and graces — questioning what it means to be human.
And it reminds us that in an age where physical looks have been commodified, real beauty runs deeper.
Behind his grotesque features, the Elephant Man is “highly intelligent, has an acute sensibility and, worse for him, a romantic imagination.”
The production runs Tuesday through Saturday.
All shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available at Well-Read Books.
Contact Genesee Keevil at email@example.com