Monday, November 12, 2018

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's Frankenstein

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Frankenstein. It was by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley. It was directed by Ian Frank. It was about a young ambitious scientist named Victor Frankenstein (Nick Sandys) who creates this reconstructed human, referred to as the Creature (Greg Matthew Anderson). Victor comes back to his house and discovers that the Creature has learned how to walk, so Victor flees to Geneva. The Creature then learns about the ways that humans live and sets out to find where he came from. It is about the humanity of monsters and the monstrosity of humans. I think this is a visually stunning and beautifully acted show. It really makes you think about humanity and its combination of brutality and intelligence.

I feel like the set (by Joe Schermoly), movement (by Kristina Fluty), sound (by Christopher Kriz), and lights (by Mike Durst) in the show immerse you more fully in the story. The set worked for many different locations and scenes because it was just white walls that were movable and grey poles that would swing from side to side when pushed. There was also a background piece that opened slowly throughout the show. At first it seemed like just a white wall, but as the play progressed the wall would crack open and you could see light behind it. It made me think of the Creature's horizons, his view of the world expanding. It was like mountains that were beautiful and jagged and it reminded me of the two ways that he thinks of the world, as wonderful and dangerous. The movement from the very beginning shows the Creature being born. It is a very visceral way to start the show, with his screams of agony and confusion as he contorts and strains his body in a desperate attempt to gain control over himself. There was very loud and oppressive opera playing through the first few scenes; it really intrigued me and the music made the audience feel almost like the Creature did because of how confusing-in-the-moment and overwhelming the surroundings were.

Anderson and Sandys switch roles throughout the run. This is a very interesting choice. It made me want to see the show again because I thought about how different it would be with different actors playing the parts of Frankenstein and the Creature. It shows how similar these two creatures really are. Even though they are pitted against each other, they are both capable of feeling love and feeling heartbreak and committing irrational and cruel acts. And because Elizabeth and the female creature are both played by the same actor (Elizabeth Stoughton) it really shows how similar Frankenstein's and the Creature's crimes are against these women. Even though the Creature is made out by Frankenstein to be irrational and savage, Frankenstein himself commits the same act as the monster does and he commits the crime first.

The play is interested in the layers of discrimination in society. Frankenstein seems to push people away no matter their intelligence or good intentions as if no one who is not him could have any contribution to his life or his work. He rejects the Creature's offers to help reconstruct a woman creature. And Elizabeth wants to help him with his work, but he rejects her because she is a woman and he believes that women could not possibly know anything that he doesn't. I think that Mary Shelley and the playwright could be equating the experience of being an intelligent woman to being seen as a monster.

People who would like this show are people who like visual metaphors, similar creatures, and intelligent monsters. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a unique and amazing experience with great actors and an immersive atmosphere. I really liked it.

Photos: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Friday, November 2, 2018

Review of St. Sebastian Players' The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The book, music, and lyrics were by Rupert Holmes, inspired by the Dickens novel. It was directed by Robert-Eric West. It was about a group of actors in the Victorian era putting on an adaptation of Charles Dickens' unfinished book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The play they are putting on is about a young man named Edwin Drood (Sarah Myers) whose uncle John Jasper (Sean Michael Barrett) is in love with Edwin's fiancee Rosa Bud (Shayla Rogers). The uncle is also addicted to opium, provided by Princess Puffer (Lauren Miller), so he cannot remember his actions. There are also some new people in town who have come from Ceylon, Neville Landless (Peter Kattner III) and his sister Helena (Anna Gallucci), and Neville follows the trend and falls in love with Rosa. The entire production is overseen by Mr. William Cartwright (Darryl Maximilian Robinson), the chairman of the music hall. When Edwin Drood goes missing, everyone is a suspect. But the musical doesn't have an ending, so the audience has to decide. I thought this was a fun show. It had some good performances and an interesting concept.

I really loved the character of Mr. Phillip Bax (Adam Hoak) who played Bazzard in the play within a play. He had a song called "Never the Luck" which was an original song by Bax about how unlucky he was when it came to getting roles at the Music Hall Royale. He was always the understudy, never the star. He was absolutely adorable. He was very genuine and kind of scared, and he ended up having a lovely voice even though he was very nervous and scared in the performance up until that point. Bazzard seemed to be the fan favorite throughout the show. So when it was asked who should play Dick Datchery, the detective investigating the disappearance, the crowd immediately decided that it should be Bazzard.

Something that distressed me was the use of brownface for two Indian characters, the Landless siblings. I realize this is a convention of the production. They are supposed to be white British actors playing these roles with terrible accents. I think it is a convention that could be abandoned. I would much rather have seen people of Indian descent playing these roles. The roles of Helena and Neville are very stereotyped, but the roles of the music hall actors playing those roles don't have to be. It would have been interesting to see non-stereotyped characters of Indian descent playing roles of stereotyped Indians. I think this layering could have landed a message about the challenges actors of color can face in playing their own race in scripts written by white people.

I really liked how they let you choose who the murderer was. It was very interesting to see what everyone else in the audience was thinking and how it was all put together at the last moment. I wonder what it must have been like for the actors to be so on edge and not have any idea who would play the detective, the murderer, or sing the final love song any given night. I would love to see all the different versions. The night that I was at the show, the detective was Bazzard and the murderer was Helena. The love song was sung by Princess Puffer and Durdles (Eric S. Prahl), who is a hilarious drunk gravedigger. Honestly, they seem pretty perfect for each other because they are both messed up enough for the other.

People who would like this show are people who like pageantry, melodrama, and adorable understudies. I think this show has some talented actors and I really liked the audience participation.

Photos: Eryn Walanka