BWW Review: MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN at DIFFERENT STAGES
This winter, Austin's Different Stages theatre company takes on one of the most famous novels of the 19th century: FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley. Different Stages performs Patrick Sanford's 2-act adaptation of the novel, showing at the Vortex Repertory Theatre.
I went to this production having read the novel many years ago but not knowing what to expect from the play. Though the two lead performances of Victor Frankenstein (Travis Hedges Williams) and the Creature (Samuel Grimes) knock it out of the park, the rest of the production as a whole failed to match the expansiveness of the material. Strange choices and missed opportunities left me scratching my head and just simply desiring more from the production.
Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN was written and published in 1818. The idea of a brilliant but grief-stricken scientist creating life from death then subsequently rejecting his creature came to Shelley during a writing competition between her, her lover-poet Percy Shelley- and fellow poet Lord Byron.
In this highly influential novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein needs to discover how to cheat death, propelled by his grief over the passing of his mother. He accidentally creates a sentient abomination, but promptly abandons it out of disgust and fear. Wondering why he's been abandoned, the creature wanders the earth and soon wises up to his hopeless situation. It's now his mission to hunt down the man who created him and demand what he's rightfully owed, through any means necessary.
Victor and the Creature's relationship as well as how their individual lives are affected by each other, is the emotional crux of the story. Travis Hedges Williams as Victor Frankenstein and Samuel Grimes as the Creature absolutely deliver on this. These two revelatory actors leave it all on the stage as they crawl, bellow, and destroy one another as creator and creation. Williams captures a certain naïve excitement about Victor that plants the audience on his side in the beginning. But once the Creature awakens, Victor's true nature awakens as well. As Victor realizes what he's done, Williams skillfully reveals a deep cowardice and indifference in his character; now you're alarmed you ever rooted for Victor in the first place. Williams gives his all to every line delivered and every emotion expressed.
The plight of the disgraced creation comes to life through Samuel Grimes' staggering performance as the Creature. Through his expertly executed monologues and primal movements, Grimes exposes the rage and utter anguish in the creature's soul as he begs for acknowledgment from his creator. All the creature wants is justice for his existence; he didn't ask for this, after all. Grimes perfectly portrays the childlike innocence and philosopher-like wisdom of the Creature character, making him more human than every other person he meets.
Unfortunately the supporting cast and the production as a whole don't match the energy of the lead performances, creating a general air of dullness in their scenes. Though the most meaningful dialogue is given to Victor Frankenstein and the Creature, the scenes in between noticeably drag on with flat, irritating characters who serve little purpose other than to be maimed by the Creature. Much of the supporting cast's acting felt robotic and uninspired, as though they were just repeating lines instead of inhabiting their characters. In addition, the choice to include vaudeville Jabbawockeez ghosts in Victor's lab as well as a strange pop song at curtain call zapped the cold, gothic feel right out of the production.
Overall, this felt like a huge, expansive play unsuccessfully stuffed into a small production, and the limited production value was emphasized by the grandeur of the material. Since many of the extraneous scenes could have been shaved down or eliminated, Different Stages production of Mary Shelley'S FRANKENSTEIN felt like a missed opportunity to really galvanize the talent and chemistry between the two formidable leads to create a completely new and unique FRANKENSTEIN experience.
Photo Credit: Bret Brookshire
November 22 - December 14, 2019
Vortex Repertory Theatre
2307 Manor Road
Austin, TX, 78722
Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m.
Tickets are: $15 on Wednesday and Thursdays, $20, $25 or $30 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.