The Tragic Story of Doctor Frankenstein
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
October 30, 2010
The Rabbit Hole Ensemble is presenting the world premiere of The Tragic Story of Doctor Frankenstein written by resident playwright Stanton Wood, and directed by the company's artistic director Edward Elefterion, who also designed the lighting and sound. I like this company's work, and being a Brooklynite, was excited to hear that they are now performing in Park Slope.
In this gender-bending adaptation of Mary Shelley's famous novel, Frankenstein, the roles of the doctor and the creature are female and the put-upon fiance is male. The story is told in a narrative style, focusing exclusively on the doctor's side of the story, and is done in the minimalist aesthetic that is the company's tradition.
In press information Elefterion has stated that "By changing the genders of the Doctor and the Creature to women, and the Doctor's fiance to a man, the story is more clearly about the mother/child relationship and the ramifications of creation, abandonment, neglect, and self-isolation. Having the fiance be a man really highlights the suffering that is experienced by the partner of someone who is obsessed and the destructive power of neglect." I found that opinion compelling
We listen as Victoria (an intense and focused Elyse Knight) takes us back through her college life as a student of science, and how she is struck by the possibility of creating life from death. Becoming obsessed with this idea, she works relentlessly, piecing together body parts until she creates and ignites life in the body of what appears to be a creepy looking young female child. The instant the creation shows life Victoria is horrified with what she has done and regrets her actions. At this point, in a kind of madness, she splits into her current being and a younger version of herself (an equally intense Jocelyn O'Neil) who assists with the narration, and acts as a sort of inner conscience. The creature-child (an impassioned and chilling Emily Hartford) escapes, and the doctor hopes to never see or think of her again. No such luck. When Victoria's long time fiance Zachary (a pouting Arthur Aulisi) arrives, visions of the creature plague her and lead to a confrontation where the creature demands that she be given a companion like herself, who won't shun her. Victoria struggles between her obligations to help the agonizingly lonely creature who never asked to be born, and to prevent another "monster" being let loose into society. When she refuses to create again, there is retaliation with a vengeance.
The cast is assisted by two Kurogo (a term borrowed from Kabuki theater of Japan) played by the nimble Lauren Cook and Nikki Dillon. These assistants, dressed in black, carry hand-held clip lights which are used to great effect on the bare stage. They also assist with props and at times even become part of the set. This helps the action move right along in this 75-minute piece.
Although all of the artists fully commit to this concept, and turn in strong performances, the style seems to be struggling between gothic and camp, and at times the audience seemed unsure whether to laugh or not. It is not made clear just why Victoria is so obsessed with creating life, and you would think that the creature being a child might bring out the maternal instincts from the doctor, but here she really shows nothing but contempt for her creation. This makes her unsympathetic, and you kind of want this harsh harpy to get it in the end. The fiance comes across as a sullen child himself, and it's hard to understand why these two are together in the first place. Wood is a talented writer, but there is relentless agonizing from all of the main characters that wears after awhile and a few more contrasting softer scenes would be welcome. Elefterion's direction is physically sharp and well defined, and his lighting and sound design go a long way in making some wonderfully suspenseful moments. Costume design by Pei-Chi Su uses a nice combination of gothic and modern.
I appreciate that this company tries such interesting projects and they are working with Wood in a year-long exploration of Frankenstein and its themes. Part 2, which tells the same story, but from the monster's point of view, is to be presented in 2011.