BWW Review: Stephanie Berry Plays Both Creature and Creator in FRANKENSTEIN
The first thing that happens in director Timothy Douglas' Classic Stage Company mounting of Tristan Bernays' adaptation of Mary Shelley's beloved gothic novel, Frankenstein, is that actor/musician Rob Morrison, playing a one-member chorus, comes out on stage and tunes the three string instruments he'll use during the 90-minute production.
The afternoon this reviewer attended, the audience stayed quiet as he went about his business for what seemed to be at least two minutes, which seems a lot longer when you're sitting quietly watching somebody tuning instruments.
The pace doesn't quicken much when Stephanie Berry, playing the creature created by Dr. Victor Frankenstein, goes through the physically of coming to life and, for the next twenty minutes or so, experiences the repetitive process of learning to walk, eat, speak (with the help of an audience member) and remember not to touch fire. Morrison, who will play small roles along the way, accents moments with his original compositions.
Berry is doing fine work, but, as mapped out by the playwright and executed by the director, the sequence drags along to the sudden development of the creature into a verbal and emotional sole. At this point more of Shelley's narrative text is utilized in dramatizing the creatures first encounters with humans.
Berry also plays Dr. Frankenstein, although the differences in her two portrayals are minimal, as the piece examines the relationship between creator and creation in a manner that suggests the relationship between a deity and a worshipper questioning the purpose of life.
Though Bernays' text uses male pronouns for the two roles played by Berry, who is a woman of color, she has expressed in interviews that her initial response to playing the creature was that it reminded her of the struggle experienced by African American women when encountering Eurocentric standards of beauty.
But, at this state, the play seems essentially an acting showcase, and while Berry is quite impressive in her physicality and sensitivity, if there are any deeper themes being explored than what is already apparent in Shelley's novel, they didn't appear clearly to this reviewer.