BWW Review: Four Larks FRANKENSTEIN World Premiere Almost Totally Incomprehensible but Entertaining to Watch
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and Four Larks present their World Premiere production of FRANKENSTEIN, created by Four Larks after Mary Shelley's classic novel, from Wednesday, February 12 through Sunday, March 7, 2020, in The Wallis' Lovelace Studio Theater. This unusual Frankenstein, commissioned by The Wallis, is an exuberant amalgamation of dynamic physical theatre, live music and experiential design that brings the tale to life in a modern take that spotlights the dangers of unregulated technology. Sourced predominantly from Shelley's novel in conjunction with its 200th anniversary, the production awakens new questions about moral responsibility for each generation.
That description drew me to see the show, but in all honesty, I found the storyline as presented completely incomprehensible. Yes, it was entertaining to watch the talented cast of twelve, all doubling as musicians, cavort around the small stage set with ceiling-high shelves of seemingly unrelated props on both sides thanks to set dressing designer Regan Baumgarten, with many of the actors half-dressed to draw attention to them which mostly just distracted me from following the story, as did the hurtful, extremely bright lights designed by Brandon Baruch which were often flashed upon the audience, so much so that many reached for their programs to shield their eyes - me being one of them. Projection design by Laskfar Vortok added interesting 2001 A Space Odyssey type visual effects that were eye-catching and very entertaining to watch.
Four Larks' Mat Sweeney and Peters-Lazaro, who have been creating together since 2008, combine immersive design with innovative orchestration and dynamic choreography in work that continually evolves as they explore new forms. But unfortunately, this one appears to be way beyond the understanding of many audience members as I heard several attempting to figure out what they had seen as I walked out of the theater with them. At least I did not feel alone. Do not go if you expect to see the story presented in the same way as the classic film or with the ever-present humor of Mel Brooks film "Young Frankenstein."Perhaps Mat Sweeney's program notes may be of interest to those of you planning to see the World Premiere of Four Larks' FRANKENSTEIN during its run at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, as it offers his vision of what the show was going to present, all of which eluded me. "Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley (1797-1851) began writing Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus at age eighteen. The novel prophetically allegorized the forces of innovation and industry that have propelled western civilization in the two hundred years since its first publication in 1818. Shelley's dual protagonists embody both the reckless pursuit of individual glory inherent to capitalism, and its devastating consequences on the disenfranchised and the earth itself.
Shelley's nightmarish vision of inverted creation has spawned countless adaptations across form, culture, and generation. Even within her own lifetime, Mary bore witness to many theatrical mutations of her "monstrous progeny," and delighted in the first crediting of her nameless creature as "_____." As we set out to create a Frankenstein relevant to Los Angeles in 2020, we were continually drawn back to the original text and to the author herself. The historical context of Mary's life and the radical empathy of her personal politics create a fascinating prism through which to view the characters. As such, we've centered her authorship in our staging and preserved her language in our collaged libretto, though we have liberally grafted onto her ideas and imagery in our design, music, and lyrics (written with Jesse Rasmussen). We take this adaptation as an opportunity to consider the labyrinth of stories, histories, technologies and monsters that we've been born into, and imagine how we might carve a path forward for those to come."The cast of twelve performers are entertaining to watch as they transform from musicians into many different characters thanks to inventive costuming by Lena Sands and creative make-up design by Jesse Rasmussen and Pamela Bjorklund,, even if the story is impossible to follow, include Max Baumgarten, Lu Coy, Philip Graulty, Yvette Cornelia Holzwarth (an incredible violinist and vocalist), Joanna Lynn-Jacobs, Kila Packett, Lukas Papenfusscline, Craig Piaget, James Vitz-Wong, Katherine Washington, James Waterman, and Claire Woolner.
FRANKENSTEIN is directed, created, staged and composed by Four Larks' Mat Sweeney with design and choreography by Sebastian Peters-Lazaro, the show's creative producer, both of whom created the adaptation with Jesse Rasmussen, and share, "Mary Shelley's story, one of the greatest ever told, ushered in new genres, and its ethical questions continue to resonate with new advances in science and technology. In an adaptation unlike any that's come before it, we're dissecting and collaging its parts to create a brand-new creature with an incredible ensemble of virtuosic physical actors and musicians surging new life into Shelley's nightmare." I hope their words may encourage you to see the production as this reviewer, in good faith, cannot recommend it except for it unique and technically masterful staging (minus the painful lighting).Performances in the Lovelace Studio Theater at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills, continue through March 7, 2020 on Weekdays 8 pm; Saturdays, 2:30 pm and 8 pm Sundays, 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm, with a run time of 75 minutes with no intermission. Ticket prices are $60 (subject to change). To purchase tickets and for more information, please call 310-746-4000 or visit TheWallis.org/Frankenstein. Please note this production utilizes a strobe light effect, flashing lights, theatrical haze and contains partial nudity.
Photo credit: Kevin Parry