BWW Reviews: Country Playhouse's FRANKENSTEIN is a Dark, Thought-Provoking and Chilling Good Time
Halloween time is upon us, and Country Playhouse is offering audiences a spine-chilling dramatic version of Mary Shelley's classic horror tale FRANKENSTEIN. The play, penned by Victor Gialanella, met a tragic end in New York City when it flopped in 1981 after 29 previews and 1 performance. Under the direction of Philip L. Nichols, Jr. the script is brought to fascinating life, engaging the audience and entertaining them with one of the closest adaptations of the novel that I have ever seen.
The text of Victor Gialanella play's is wordy and showcases some elements of his writing for daytime soap operas, such as Days of Our Lives. Under Phillip J. Nichols, Jr.'s direction the plot progresses at a comfortable pace without any real lags in the crescendo of blood-curdling momentum. The cast invites the audience to get lost in the story and experience some well-appreciated thrills and chills along the way.
Starring as Victor Frankenstein, Louis Crespo delivers a tour de force performance. His Victor is arrogant and driven, completely consumed by his work. It is not until he has lost almost everything that Victor begins to notice how heinous the consequences for his horrible actions are. Louis Crespo expertly handles the character's arc, and skillfully earns empathetic reactions when he finally does begin to realize the troubles he has caused for everyone that is dear to him-even if he learns it much too late. Furthermore, Louis Crespo's Frankenstein in imbued with a gusto that makes him more sinister and dark than previous incarnations of the character, which is an added bonus for the portrayal.
As The Creature, Michael Raabe is a revelation of fine-tuned talent. His complex and fantastically rendered make-up adds a layer of terror to his performance; however, I'm convinced he would be just as chilling and convincing without it. His Creature quickly earns the audience's empathy in the final two scenes of Act I and is delightfully intelligent-many thanks to Victor Gilanella and Philip J. Nichols, Jr. for ensuring the best element of the original novel was respectfully and sincerely kept in tact. Additionally, as The Creature murders and maims his way through Act II, the audience still feels for him. Michael Rabbe tangibly expresses the emotions of The Creature, allowing his quest for belonging and his desire to fit in with society to ruminate in both our hearts and minds. However, to keep the audience from completely romanticizing The Creature, Michael Raabe powerfully employs frightening, gut wrenching, and chilling bellows and pristinely executed fight choreography that appears wonderfully realistic.
Jeffrey S. Dorman's Henry Clarval is a fantastic foil to Louis Crespo's Victor Frankenstein. The two work well off of each other. His often direct and no-nonsense Clarval perfectly balances Victor, yet still can get swept away in the experimentation that ultimately allows The Creature to be born.
Elizabeth LaVenza, portrayed by Jennifer Westbrook, is sentimental and lovingly worried about her fiancé, Victor. The character is well played and believable, adding subtle tenderness to the dark tale.
Amesty Rioux does a great job playing Justine Moritz. From her first appearance on stage it is obvious that she cares deeply for the Frankenstein family, which makes her fate saddening and a true tragic waste.
The body snatchers, played by Mary Westbrook, Enriqué Vasquez, and Melissa L. Nichols are darkly humorous. Each of the actors has brought an amusing and Shakespearean-inspired tone to their roles. They remind the audience of the gravediggers in HAMLET with their irreverent joking. The characters are a fantastic addition to the tale and do a great job lightening the mood throughout the first act.
The sets for the show are sumptuous and ornate. In all actuality, for a community theatre production they're simply top-notch and mind blowing. From the delicate hand painted patterns on the walls of Chatueau Frankenstein's sitting room to the sheer number of collected items in Victor's laboratory, each set is thoroughly detailed and realistic. Each member of the cast and crew that helped create these sets should be very proud of the work they accomplished. Also, they should be proud of their ability to quickly change the scene with well rehearsed and precise choreography. Along these same lines, Melissa L. Nichol's collected props are extraordinary as well.
Rod Harty's sound and light design is incredible. Both elements are skillfully used to heighten mood and emphasize tension.
Deborah Blake and Elaine Steinbach have created wonderfully appropriate and ornate costumes for the cast as well. Each piece looks wonderful on stage and helps sell the show to the audience. There is only one thing I think that could improve the costuming, and that would be to muddy and fray the bottom hems of the body snatcher's garments, if possible. I was struck by how clean their clothing looked, but not distracted.
Philip L. Nichols, Jr.'s FACADES FX has created a superb prosthetic for The Creature. It is stunning to see the make-up in person. Pictures simply do not do it justice. Yes, Michael Raabe expertly manipulates the prosthetic and skillfully acts through it, but the prosthetic is nothing short of amazing. There are not enough positive adjectives for me to describe how much it moved the audience and how much we sincerely enjoyed it. This adroitly acted and presented show is worth seeing on its own, but this make-up easily doubles the value of the show.
FRANKENSTEIN at Country Playhouse is one of those shows that further proves that community theatre is a legitimate and living art form in and of itself. This show is definitely a beast to pull off, but this cast and crew makes it look so effortless. Additionally, they have put together a show that appears (even though it did not) to have had a large and expansive budget. This production truly exemplifies the magic of quality community theatre and the spirit and labor of love of volunteer talent. It may be billed as a Halloween creature feature, but there is a serious artistic heart in this production. FRANKENSTEIN at Country Playhouse is sure to appeal to those who enjoy the season, but in the end it gives the audience so much more.Photos courtesy of Country Playhouse.