What lies inside The Elephant Man's trunk? Even director Sean Mathias and star Billy Crudup don't know—not yet, anyway. The men told Playbill On-Line that the new Broadway production—which began rehearsals Feb. 11, the same day the cast and crew of the revival held a press preview—will take shape during the six-week rehearsal process.
"It's going to grow out of the ensemble work that we do together," said Mathias. "The production isn't really formed at all. It's going to happen in the rehearsal room. That's the way I'm going to work with it."
Asked if Crudup would be called upon to contort his body to communicate the misshapen physicality of John Merrick, as Philip Anglim and his successors had done in the original Broadway production, Mathias said he was unsure. "I don't know if it's going to be like it was," he said, "but [Crudup]'s definitely going to do it without prosthetics and with his own physical expression." Crudup agreed that the outer reality of his performance was yet to be decided upon: "To be honest, I don't know yet. I've tried to prepare myself physically, working with somebody over the last couple of months to become as flexible and strong as I can, so we can make those choices. I just don't know if we'll do any of it."
After Mathias was offered The Elephant Man, he immediately thought of approaching Crudup about the challenging central role of Merrick, a hideously-deformed circus attraction abused by his keepers and rescued by a scientist, who treats him civilly but makes him something of a faddish curiosity among the intelligentsia of Victorian England. "We'd met a couple of times socially, and as soon as I was given it I thought, well, that's a great part for Billy. We started talking about it about a year ago."
"There were two things that I found really inspiring about it," said Crudup. "One, the character of Merrick was such an optimistic character, he was full of life and vitality....More than that was the ability the play has to become something completely fresh and new. The way that it's structured and fragmented—it's not you typical Act One, Act Two, Act Three, with two or three scenes in each—it's almost as though it's a photo album of this specific journey of Treves and Merrick coming together and then moving apart. " The production was originally scheduled for a London debut, but, as with many another plan, that all changed after Sept. 11. "It was going to be London," said Mathias. "And then after Sept. 11, the London producers got very nervous and Billy said, `Well, let's do it in New York.' So I went back to the producers that owned the rights and said, `Why don't we do it in New York.' They went to Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams, the American counterparts, and they said, `Well, that's very excited—that is, if you can put it together.' And we put to together literally between Nov. 1 and Dec. 23."
Joining Crudup were co-stars Kate Burton, Rupert Graves, Jenna Stern, Ed Genest, Jack Gilpin and James Riordon, as well as set designer Santo Loquasto and sound designer David Shapiro.
Burton said she auditioned for the role of Mrs. Kendal while still starring on Broadway in Hedda Gabler. Her seven-month commitment will keep her from spending the summer at her usual haunt: the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where her husband Michael Ritchie is producer.
Designers for The Elephant Man include Loquasto (set and costumes), James Ingalls (lighting) and Shapiro (sound). Famed serialist composer Philip Glass (The Photographer, Einstein on the Beach) will create original music for the intermissionless staging, which is produced by David Aukin for Act Productions, Waxman/Williams Entertainment, Bob Boyett, Steve Martin & Joan Stein, and Manhattan Theatre Club.