‘The Elephant Man’ Takes The Stage At Manoa Valley Theatre

Co-directors Alexander Munro (left) and Paul Mitri

Co-directors Alexander Munro (left) and Paul Mitri

In theater, there is a term called a “spine” — which basically is a thematic concept that guides the creative decisions that are made throughout the play.

In their take on Tony-Award winning Broadway play The Elephant Man, Manoa Valley Theatre’s spine is this: “We are all freaks.”

“It’s a wonderfully evocative statement because it reveals that, if everyone is a freak, then no one is a freak,” explains Alexander Munro, who is co-directing the play alongside Paul Mitri. “We, as a society, have created what it means to be ‘normal’ or to be a ‘freak.’

The Elephant Man, written by Bernard Pomerance in 1977, is based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, who lived in London during the 1800s and suffered various skin and bone disorders that left him severely deformed. Merrick toured Europe as part of a freak show. When he was abandoned by his manager, he returned to London, where he was cared for by a doctor with whom he formed a close friendship.

Rob Duval and Paul Mitri star in ‘The Elephant Man'  ERICH STEINWANDT PHOTOS

Rob Duval and Paul Mitri star in ‘The Elephant Man’

The play runs at Manoa Valley Theatre through Dec. 4.

“The playwright deftly balances academic subjects (tropical medicine, Plato’s Theory of Ideas, morality) with lines that punch you in the gut,” Munro says.

“As a director, I also love that it is a smart play, one that depends on simplicity in the scenes and no gimmicks or special effects,” adds Mitri, who also stars in the play as Merrick. “Everyone has to create their characters and commit fully.”

While The Elephant Man has seen various iterations of the years — including, most recently, a Broadway revival starring Bradley Cooper — the directors feel that their “spine” guided them to make decisions that set their production apart. For instance, their set design — constructed in collaboration with assistant director Michelle Pitel and set designer DeAnne Kennedy, they note — is comprised of three large staircases that the actors reconfigure throughout the play.

“The staircases, moved by our cast members, allowed us to physically show society constructing itself,” Munro says.

They also have included a pre-show that plays on the production’s themes.

“We hope this helps the story not be seen as just a ‘period piece’ but one which still is very relevant to our own society, especially in these times of heightened tensions and xenophobia,” Mitri adds.

The Elephant Man runs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 4 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 4. Tickets cost $40 for general admission; senior and military tickets cost $35; and tickets for young adults age 25 and under cost $20. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 988-6131 or visit manoavalleytheatre.com.