Tuesday, January 19, 2016

FRANKENSTEIN’S WAKE @ CPT, a thought-provoking reimagining of the Shelly legend

When the mention of the name Frankenstein is made, the common visual reference is that of Boris Karloff, who was a large green monster with screws in his head, as featured in the 1931 horror film.  Karloff, in fact, played Frankenstein’s monster, not Henry Frankenstein, the young scientist who created the being from parts collected from various sources, including the brain of a criminal, which was brought to life through electrical devices.

The film was based on FRANKENSTEIN or THE MODERN PROMETHEUS, a novel that was written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley when she was around 18 years old.  Infused with both Gothic and Romantic elements, it is considered to be the first English language science fiction novel.

In 1997, FRANKENSTEIN’S WAKE, a play with music, was performed off-off Broadway.  The one hour and 20 minute play included songs and was met with positive reviews. 

In his director’s notes to Cleveland Public Theatre’s production of FRANKENSTEIN’S WAKE, Raymond Bobgan states that the Shelley book was about longing.  He indicates that “we are all the child of someone.  We all come from somewhere and many of us can identify with the creature’s longing for connection with his maker.”  He further explains, “we all feel a sense of incompleteness.” 

Bobgan indicates that “a large portion of the text of FRANKENSTEIN’S WAKE comes from the classic novel by Mary Shelley.”  To that text, Bobgan and Holly Holsinger, who created and designed the production, have added the poem “Mutability,” written by Percy Shelley in addition to five songs.

This is by no means a musical in the traditional sense.  There are no dances, show stoppers, or actors breaking into song.  The music is in the background, sets moods and makes transitions.

Holly Holsinger, in a tour-de-force performance, is captivating.   Basically alone on stage during the entire performance, she transforms herself from a crazy sister of a wandering explorer/sailor into an ambitious scientist, to an abandoned soul desperate for companionship.   Changes are highlighted by costume, makeup and lighting alterations.  As characters die, thus increasing the character’s longing, they are wrapped in shrouds of white, and piled at the top end of the runway stage, building a mound of isolation.

The script and Holsinger restore Shelley’s original supernatural quality, rather than the sensationalized film’s interpretation.

The 50-seat Church Theatre, an alternative CPT space, is like a second character.  The runway stage, with the audience seated on either side, helps create an intimacy and has an aura that makes the actions vivid.

Caitlin Lewins’ musical performance and the singing of Chloe Mlinarick, Sarah Moore and Shannon Sharkey add positively to the over-all effect.

Capsule judgement: Raymond Bobgan, the director and the piece’s co-creator, concludes his program remarks by stating, “Perhaps, on this stage, we will reform the image of the monster made by humanity.”  Whether he and Holly Holsinger have done so depends on whether audience members are capable of grasping the duo’s intent and purpose.  Doing so is a challenge, but can be worth the effort.

FRANKENSTEIN’S WAKE, runs through January 30, 2016  at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to www.cptonline.org.