BWW Review: FRANKENSTEIN: A LIVE RADIO PLAY at Screen Plays
Autumn in Rochester doesn't only conjure dreams of apple picking and cider. With Halloween just around the corner, the fall season delights in nightmares as well. Screen Play's production of FRANKENSTEIN: A LIVE RADIO PLAY delivers a nostalgic introduction to this annual festival of horror. The story told stays true to Mary Shelley's gothic classic, but the twist in this production lies with the style of the telling. Set in the sound studio of local radio station WHAM in the 1940s, Philip Grecian's adaptation comes to life. Music, old-fashioned sound effects and nine voice actors retell the famous tale, which delves into human psyche, hubris and over-vaulting ambition. Many consider the novel by Mary Shelley to be first work in the genre of science fiction as she questions man's role as a caretaker of nature and cautions for a need to make thoughtful decisions regarding scientific progress.
Director Karen Tuccio has gathered a talented cast of local voice actors. Distinctive, rich, resonant voices emanating from the assemblage create a fine choral effect. Sean Michael Smith as Dr. Victor Frankenstein skillfully portrays frantic madness as the doctor realizes the whirlwind of destruction he has created. Reuben Josephe Tapp's Creature delivers a fine pathos as a young, burbling monster that grows to manifest an adolescent idealism that ultimately devolves into a jaded but articulate rage. Jack Locastro and David F. Runzo show vocal versatility playing multiple characters distinctly and convincingly. Kate Lacy-Stokoe had a suitable Prussian haughtiness as Baroness Frankenstein. Best of all, Mark Brummitt as Victor Frankenstein's friend and confidant Henry Clerval conveys complexity and range as he most vividly struggles with the moral ramifications caused by runaway science.
The talented cast could not, however, overcome the problems in direction and production values. The most important job of the director is to establish the artistic purpose of the play. Karen Tuccio's production doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Is it to be a frightening drama, a spoof, a comedy? As a result it is confusing and lackluster. The play seems to be intended as a serious interpretation of the classic but this production fails to capture the energy, excitement and philosophic import of the drama and meanders into modest melodrama. Missing also is the crucial arc of the story, a problem that is echoed in the acting. In Victor Frankenstein's first appearance, he is already intense and on edge thus giving the actor no ability for growth as his life unravels. The double casting of Kate Lacy-Stokoe is also problematic. While her excellent voice works for the older Baroness, it lacks the flexibility to portray the younger, more vibrant Justine. Early in the show the two characters have a lengthy scene that is confusing and ineffective.
The piano music, which is meant to enhance the production, is often invasive. An organ sound used sparingly to punctuate the action would be more compelling and lend the needed gloom. It is interesting to see the sound effects being produced on stage, but they need to be more clearly orchestrated and edited to be truly effective. Instead of intensifying the action, the muddiness often detracts from it.
All in all, if you are looking for a nostalgic family Halloween treat, this production will do the trick. It is familiar, entertaining and fun. As a work of theatre, however, it lacks action and clear purpose, resulting in a somewhat confused dramatic effort.
FRANKENSTEIN: A LIVE RADIO PLAY will be performed until October 13th. For more information, click here.