BWW Review: FRANKENSTEIN at Dallas Theater Center
It may not be Halloween anymore, but there are still monsters in Uptown. Nick Dear's Frankenstein, presented by Dallas Theater Center in association with the Theatre Division of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, revisits the classic story with a gritty, humanistic twist. Helmed by director Joel Ferrell, Frankenstein lurks at the Kalita Humphreys Theater with a menacing, if not slightly gapped retelling.
DTC's production begins with a flash, Kim Fischer's Creature is splayed and strapped against a simple set and surrounded by projections that remind of that creepy tunnel sequence from the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory film. He frees himself from his bondage, and slumps to the ground, beginning a lengthy and slithly unsettling yet endearing movement sequence where this veritable infant discovers the world around him. Dear's adaptation concerns itself principally with the Creature's perspective on the Shelley tale, and reimagines the narrative as one of a newborn child, growing into their surroundings. Fischer must have fun here, with room to play with movement and physical characterization - much of the gesture makes me think of trauma victims relearning to grab and walk, which I think was the goal. He howls, falls, scares his maker into fleeing, and discovers nature; what more could a monster want?
The original production at the National Theatre in London advertised this sequence to excess, taking pride in reigniting those experiences of "firsts" that a child, or the Creature experiences: rain, birds, trees, anger, lighting, and the like. There isn't quite the same sense of wonder at the Kalita as I think some of the text wants, but I think these two cities are telling two different stories. It could also be due to the vocal reverb put over the Creatures cries. The score by Ryan Rumery fits especially well here, and reminds of such popular Grey's Anatomy ambient fare as The Album Leaf or Sleeping At Last, the subtle piano will continue to be one of the best choices through to the end. Fischer's movement keeps the almost-too-lengthy sequence interesting, and sets up the curiosity that results in the Creature growing bored of the world later on. Still, I don't know how he learned to button his coat so quickly - buttons are hard.
After about 10 pages of text, we find our first real seat of interaction for the Creature, who stumbles upon the provincial home of the kindly De Lacey and his children. It is under the tutelage of this professor, who for being blind cannot see the atrocity of the Creature's scars and body, that our protagonist finds compassion of sorts, and begins to question the world in a way only the uninitiated can. Blake Hacklers' De Lacey is one of our first earnest vocal performances in the show, and the gentle montage that follows is one of the few happy-ish parts of the show. This quarter of the play begins to play with the social themes Shelley intended to be read, though like the rest of the Creature's experiences, ends in tragedy. After being rejected, and taking vengeance, he turns his gaze towards the home of Victor Frankenstein, whom he hunts with both hope and anger.
The rest of the evening is spent intertwined in the power play between Alex Organ's Victor and the Creature, and here is where the real fun begins.
Mary Shelley's now timeless speculative fiction concerns itself with more than green monsters and mad scientists. Rather, Shelley's work is almost an exercise in understanding what lies at the edge of contemporary science, and more deeply, exploring the themes of those who wanted more - the Lucifer figure. This is an archetype I like to believe Shelley identified herself with, an educated woman wanting more for herself than her time would allow. Finding this characterization is something Dear's text does well, especially in its original iteration where light and illumination played such a large role in the staging. But it doesn't take the time to actually address any of the questions posed, and rushes the relationships that are so crucial to answering them. Those familiar with the Shelley will also be left wanting for any of the Walton story.
The dichotomy between our Lucifer and his God comes to a dramatic, but easily foreshadowed finish involving Victor's betrothed Elizabeth, here an excellent Jolly Abraham, and a quick fast-forward to an end I will not reveal. Despite being possibly drawn out too far, and some literary theory qualms, Frankenstein is a nonetheless fulfilling evening. Solid, if not a bit jumpy, performances (I think that is more of a text thing) fill the vacuous Kalita, and I always enjoy watching Alex Organ work. The show is set apart most, though, by its design, with credit to be given to Amelia Branksy (SMU) for set, Tyler Micoleu for Lighting, and David Bengali for projections.
DTC's Frankenstein explores an interesting new direction, and wants to play at shifting the conversations surrounding the roles of children, rebels, and monsters in media. For all the great performances, design, and heart, the adaptation of Shelley's text doesn't allow this team to reach as far as their grasp is worth. Still, the spectacle and nostalgia of re-exploring the classic tale will leave DFW audiences with more than a few gasps.
Frankenstein runs at the Kalita Humphrey's theatre though March 4th, for more information check out www.DallasTheaterCenter.org