From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
The Elephant In The Room
Preview of LMU's production of "The Elephant Man."

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Thursday, September 29, 2005

"It's like food," Dr. Ron Marasco waxes metaphorically. "Every once in a while, you really want a gooey piece of pie. And then, after a while, you've had so much junk food that a potato and a glass of water taste good. And that's theatre to me-you want a mix of those things."

Did he really just compare the LMU Theatre Department's first play of the season to "a potato and a glass of water"? Who in the world thinks that sounds good?

Marasco sure did, and after hearing what he has to say about the upcoming play, "The Elephant Man," it sounds pretty delicious to me.

"Most people know the story of the hideously deformed man who worked in a freak show but ended up becoming known throughout upper class society," Marasco states plainly. "Though he was deformed, he was also quite an extraordinary person, and there was a tremendous beauty inside of somebody who had such a broken physicality. The message was that society shouldn't shun people who are deformed or handicapped or in any way physically challenged."

Marasco quickly veers in a different direction. "In 1979, when the play was written, this was a very important message, but I don't think this is a big problem now. There are many bad things about America, but I don't think this is one of them," he admits.

Throughout the conversation, Marasco points out several of these "bad things," including admissions policies on counting high school theatre courses for college credit, the degenerating health of the environment, and Republicans. And while his musings are often serious in a whimsical sort of way, one can easily tell that his passion, at least for the last month, has been updating Bernard Pomerance's play and creating a piece of pure theatre in the modern retelling of a somewhat classic story.

"There's another aspect of the play, though," he further explains. "This man is somebody who is ugly, broken, malformed and has a tremendous cross to bear from the get-go, and yet he struggles to create some sort of beauty. So to me, the story of the play is the quest to create beauty out of grotesque situations."

Marasco interlaces commentary on beauty and what it should mean to us in between talking about the specifics of the play. "You cannot carve up the earth and not expect to have it change beauty; you cannot gut artistic programs and expect people to still be artists. So the story of the elephant man and how it relates to our time is that-it's very hard for you to make something beautiful in this country at this time. There are a lot of forces against it. Alexis De Tocqueville said, 'America will always prefer the useful to the beautiful,' and a lot of times he's right. But the problem with the useful is that it often creates a lot of smog, and I think you see that."

Anyone can tell Ron Marasco loves this story and all the directions it can take, but he makes it clear that it's the theatre itself that has his heart, particularly the creative process that involves the actors, the director, and all those who collaborate on a work such as this.

"It's a marvelous cast of actors. Great plays humble you and make you work hard, and I think if I locked these actors in that room with this play alone, they would make something absolutely beautiful. They know they are telling a special story and when that happens, you bring your best self."

The decision to stage the first main theatre production of the season in the tiny black box theater formerly known as "The Wine Cellar" also seems strange at first, but not to Marasco. "The level of intimacy there is really amazing. I wanted people to have the simple experience of an actor telling and living a story in front of an audience so close the audience could touch him, because a lot of the play is about being repelled by the human form and then learning to move closer to it. That kind of electricity of live human beings in a room close together in an intimate setting with an interesting story to tell is the magic of the theatre, and I wanted people to have that experience in a pure, raw and direct way.

"There are times in rehearsal where you can really feel the performance in your skin," he continued, "and it's absolutely thrilling. I just love that vibe. Everything else is boring."

Among all the beauty and the ugliness in the world, Marasco feels that "what draws people to the theater is desire for a lot of different experiences, so I like things to be eclectic." In just one month of rehearsal and preparation, it seems as though he has achieved this quality in his creation. And like a true lover of beauty, he knows that although audiences will enjoy the play, the road leading up to this is truly one of the best parts. "If we never opened the play," he declares contentedly, "it still would have been the most worthwhile experience."
[via Los Angeles Loyolan:]
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