Malibu High drama students tackle ‘The Elephant Man’


Malibu High School’s Drama Department is putting its recently renovated theater to use once again, with its annual fall play. This year’s drama students present Bernard Pomerance’s “The Elephant Man,” Dec. 4-7.

“There has been a huge increase in school and community interest in our program since ‘Les Miserables,'” director and drama teacher Jodi Plaia said. “And people keep asking me how we are going to follow it and what we are up to.”

The answer is a play that is “a really tragic but uplifting story that is based on the truth of how people actually treat someone who is different,” actor Maureen Ganz said.

The story, which chronicles the life of John Merrick, the physically deformed “Elephant Man” of the title, takes place in Victorian England and “is an amazingly emotional play about characters and their connections and relationships,” actor Ashley Tomlinson explained.

Plaia said that working with student actors on such a complex emotional production has been “a challenge because the students needed to be pushed harder than ever before.”

But actor Tyrus Emory, who holds the major role of Dr. Treves and has been acting with the Malibu High Drama Department for the past six years, said that, despite the challenges, preparing for this play has been “a rewarding process because it’s intellectually challenging and is a great way of expressing myself through the arts.

“The play is difficult at times because it has very little comedy and is full of deep pathos that can really get you down,” Emory continued.

But, despite the difficulty, “the play is a great story that illuminates human existence and anyone who goes to see it will have their own existence illuminated,” Tomlinson added.

The cast will not reveal how they are going to portray the physical deformities of the Elephant Man, who is being played by sophomore Carson Higgins.

“I’d rather keep it a mystery. But I will say that we are going to do it exactly like the Broadway production” hints Plaia.

And Ganz adds that the emphasis is not on the Elephant Man’s deformities but on “relationships between people and being human.”

Because of school budget cuts, the cast and crew of “The Elephant Man” are undertaking the production on “a shoestring budget, reusing sets, and keeping the sets really stark and minimal” Plaia said.

In fact, this play is different from past MHS productions because “the stark set makes it a play and a performance that tells the story as simply as possible. The story really comes through,” Plaia added.

The cast also promises that “this play has much more acting than we’ve done before,” Ganz said.

And, “it will leave audiences shocked and hopefully redefine their concepts about what normality is” Emory added.

Plaia said her favorite part of directing this play has been “watching the students rise to the occasion and surpass ‘high-school quality.'”

And the cast agrees that this play is more multifaceted than most high school productions.

“This is not a show to walk out of with a smile,” Emory said. “People are hopefully going to leave thinking and wondering about their perception of the world. This play packs an intellectual punch.”

Ultimately, “I think that other than coming to support MHS theater and see talented students, people should come to hear and see a truly amazing story,” Plaia said.

“The Elephant Man” shows Dec. 4, 5 and 7 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. in the Malibu High School Theater. Tickets are $15 at the door and can also be purchased on-campus for a reduced price both before school and during lunchtime by MHS staff and students.