NEW YORK -- Stepping as far away from Hollywood hunk roles as he could possibly go, Bradley Cooper has signed on to play John Merrick, the severely deformed Victorian-era medical curiosity who became a famous figure in London society, depicted in Bernard Pomerance's 1977 play, The Elephant Man.
Directed by Scott Ellis and also starring Patricia Clarkson, the production will run July 25-August 5 at this summer's Williamstown Theatre Festival. Cooper previously played the role as part of his senior thesis for the Actors Studio Drama School.
Both Cooper and Clarkson are vets of the Massachusetts fest, having most recently appeared there, respectively, in Theresa Rebeck's The Understudy in 2008 and Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mount Morgan in 1996.
The true-life story of Merrick, whose real name was Joseph -- from freak show exhibit to unlikely society figure to his death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- also was the subject of the 1980 David Lynch film, starring John Hurt in the title role, with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft. Pomerance's play weaves Merrick's inner humanity into a parable on beauty, innocence and dignity that shatters our illusions of normalcy.
Also on schedule for the upcoming Williamstown event, the second edition under new artistic director Jenny Gersten, is a special run of five workshop performances, June 21-24, of Here Lies Love, a new musical deconstructing the life of controversial Filipina first lady and shoe hoarder Imelda Marcos.
Conceived by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, with music by Byrne and Fatboy Slim, the show will be directed by Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher). Described as an immersive spectacle set to disco beats within a throbbing dance-club environment, it is scheduled for a full-scale production April 2-May 5, 2013, at New York's Public Theater.
Among other offerings this summer in Williamstown is a preview production of the new stage musical adaptation of Todd Haynes' 2002 film Far From Heaven, with Broadway favorite Kelli O'Hara stepping into the role played onscreen by Julianne Moore. Music and lyrics are by the Grey Gardens team of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, with Michael Greif (Rent) set to direct. Playwright Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out) is adapting the book from Haynes' screenplay.
Also on tap, David Hyde Pierce will direct Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, while Bob Balaban will direct Blythe Danner (a Williamstown alum who appeared in some of the long-running festival's most celebrated productions) in Lucy Boyle's The Blue Deep.
Established in 1955 in the Berkshires, the Williamstown Theatre Festival's 58th edition runs June 21-Aug. 19.