Review: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Signal Ensemble)

     
     

A powerful, manic waltz with unctuous tyranny

     
     

Joseph Stearns, Elizabeth Bagby, Vincent Lonergan, Signal Ensemble Theatre, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Dario Fo, Anthony Ingram, Johnny Knight

   
Signal Ensemble Theatre presents
   
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
   
Written by Dario Fo
Directed by
Anthony Ingram
at Signal Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice
(map)
through March 19  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

There’s a moment during Signal Ensemble’s production of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist when the Madman (Joseph Stearns) asks the Commissioner (Eric Paskey), “Weren’t you the warden of that secret prison who did secret things to secret people?” Would that the question didn’t conjure up images of Gitmo, Bagram Airfield and CIA planes transporting black-hooded terrorist suspects to black sites all around the world, yet it does. It’s impossible to complacently relinquish Fo’s brilliant farce to corrupt 1970’s Italy–and that is precisely the point. That world is too much with us. Under Anthony Ingram’s direction, if Signal’s well-oiled and indefatigable cast demonstrates anything, it’s how Fo peels back layer upon layer of mendacious civilization until nothing is left but raw, exposed, abusive power desperately trying to justify itself.

Chris Walsh, Joseph Stearns, Elizabeth Bagby, Vincent Lonergan, Signal Ensemble Theatre, Anthony Ingram, Johnny Knight, Accidental Death of an AnarchistSince chicanery is the order of the day, why have a protagonist that takes any of it seriously but can deal out sophistry as fast and loose as his foes? As the Madman, hauled into the precinct for dozens of illegal impersonations, Stearns conveys Fo’s rage against the machine with urgent and fierce flippancy. Stearns plays Bugs Bunny to Inspector Bertozzo’s (Vincent Lonergan) Elmer Fudd, while, as Officers 1 and 2, respectively, Elizabeth Bagby and Christopher M. Walsh make their greatest comic impact just standing around munching donuts. After bamboozling Bertozzo into releasing him, the Madman discovers that a judge from Rome will arrive shortly to re-open the investigation into police misconduct over the suicide, er, accidental death, of an anarchist in their custody.

Fo’s play is based upon a true incident of police abuse that took place in Italy in 1969 and audiences would do well to refer to the excellent dramaturgical background on the incident posted in Signal’s lobby. A three-year investigation into the incident revealed layer upon layer of deep and disturbing corruption, with links to fascist elements supported by the government. It’s a tribute, not only to Fo’s work, but also to the fast and bold, controlled frenzy of the cast that such heavy and onerous themes never drag or lose their farcical edge.

The shining comic triad of the evening lines up between Madman, the Commissioner and the Sporty Inspector (Anthony Tournis). The Madman impersonates the Roman judge and pulls one version of the incident after another from men desperate to save their careers—“You guys ought to be novelists!” Ah, but novelists rarely get to sport aviator sunglasses to make people respect their authori-tay or engage in inspired near-death acrobatics at the window. Stearns, Paskey and Tournis take the play’s slapstick to the limit and one might easily order their arrest for having too much fun with their parts.

It’s kidding in deadly earnest. Layered into the performances is a thread of ironic camaraderie between the police and their anarchist prey. Again and again, Fo hints at their cheek-by-jowl relationship. Far from being violent rebels, anarchists “enjoy their creature comforts,” and are petite bourgeois. Whereas the police, as spies, make up the majority of anarchist cells and know all the words for a rousing chorus of “The Whole World is My Homeland.”

        
Anarchist #6 Anarchist #7 Eric Pasky, Simone Roos, Signal Ensemble Theatre, Anthony Ingram, Johnny Knight, Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Signal Ensemble shines best when it depicts their bad romance. Act 2, with the introduction of the Reporter (Simone Roos), doesn’t have the same punch as the first. The second act is supposed to drive the comedy into train wreck territory and Stearn’s costumes are a hoot, but his performance comes close to being dangerously preachy. It’s also at risk of being lost for the jumble of slapstick happening toward the back of Signal’s small stage. If only Ingram’s direction could clean up the sightlines a little more. Nevertheless, overall, Accidental Death of an Anarchist is one to see. Signal Ensemble’s production is a powerful, manic waltz through the life-lies Western culture depends upon—necessary medicine, with a ton of farcical sugar to help it all go down.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  
Christopher M. Walsh, Joseph Sterns, Anthony Tournis, Elizabeth Bagby, Anthony Ingram, Johnny Knight, Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Joseph Stearns, Signal Ensemble, Dario Fo, Anthony Ingram, Johnny Knight

Accidental Death of an Anarchist runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m., through March 19, at the Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 West Berenice Ave. in Chicago. Tickets/info at 773-347-1350; www.signalensemble.com.

All photo by Johnny Knight.

     
     

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REVIEW: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type (Lifeline)

 

Fun for kids of all ages

 

 Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  006

   
Lifeline Theatre presents
 
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
  

Adapted by James E. Grote
Music by George Howe
Directed by
Shole Milos
at
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through December 5  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I had my favorite associate reviewers with me for the Lifeline Theatre’s production of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. My niece Lexi and my nephew David are great barometers of what is funny without the filters of adulthood. Fortunately, this excellent show was a gem of comic timing and great music – even as I wear my grownup glasses.

Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  004 The story is simple and universal. Cow 1, Cow 2, Hen, and Duck want better accommodations. The cows and the hen are freezing their respective hides and feathers off in the barn. Duck is bored with the lily pad and wants to spice up his pond. The animals have a barrier in communicating with Farmer Brown and then the hilarity ensues.

Understudy Mallory Nees, who was fabulous in The Blue Shadow (our review ★★★), also at Lifeline, played Cow 1. She is the more logical of the cows and tries to find a sensible way to get through to farmer Brown. Lakhiyia Hicks plays the role of Cow 2. Her character wants to give Farmer Brown a knuckle sandwich until Hen reminds her that she doesn’t have traditional knuckles. Christina Hall plays hen with great aplomb and gleefulness. Hicks and Hall have a wonderful banter about chicken breath and cow mouth that had the audience in stitches. Yes, it’s juvenile. But it’s funny!

Ryotaro Shigeta plays the role of diplomatic Duck. Shigeta is charming and ebullient in the role. Duck has a great secret weapon in the super high definition remote control that drops from the ceiling. The remote allows us to translate cow, hen, and duck talk. It also rewinds the characters and pauses. Derek Czaplewski plays the hapless Farmer Brown who lives the sounds of the farm and is greatly disturbed when the animals become revolutionaries for warmth in the barn.

Farmer Brown makes the mistake of storing some old books and a typewriter in the barn where the animals live. Cow 2 sees that the books are by Karl Marx, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and George Orwell. She is called to revolution and wants to get Farmer Brown off of the farm so that the animals can take over like in Orwell’s book. Cow 1 tells her to read the whole story because it might not be as great as that seems. It’s a great lesson for kids in getting the whole story and communicating so that everyone involved can understand. It’s funny on an adult level because we know how Orwell turns out. It’s funny on a kid level because Cow 2 is just funny pumping her fist in the air and declaring ‘power to the animals!’

 

Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  003 Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  007

Hall’s hen is really sweet as she wonders what happens to her eggs. It is another great lesson in knowing your worth and the value of your work for children.

The musical numbers are smooth and well choreographed. The song ‘An Electric Blanket Looks Like Home’ is done in 60’s girl group style. The music is cool and the dance moves are worthy of a Supreme or Vandella.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type is from a series by author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Betsy Lewin. It is in the series that Lifeline has continued from Dooby Dooby Moo, and Duck for President.

Illustrator Lewin was on hand to sign the books on Sunday and the cast was most accommodating in signing autographs in person. Once again, Lifeline has done a stellar job of bringing the theater experience to people of all ages. I am a firm believer that children should be exposed to the theater more than the movies. There is real magic in this production. It is the magic that allows a child’s mind to roam in  imagination rather than be stifled and homogenized by impossible special effects. Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  004Lexi and David gave it their definite seal of approval. This miracle came in the form of one full hour of rapt focus and laughter.

Of course it should be said that David has deemed me the best auntie in the world. That is a comment that one doesn’t hear often and it isn’t doled out all willy-nilly.

They loved the brightly colored set, the great music, and dancing. Most of all, they love the theater experience in our own backyard of Rogers Park. It is a cool thing to read about something on your oat O’s box and then to see it live. Kudos to Lifeline for an amazing and fun show that shows the value of follow-through, problem solving, and cooperation. The play is an hour long and will hold your child’s attention as well as yours. I recommend this play even if you don’t have a grade school kid to take along. The double entendre is more than worthy for a laugh and memories of urban studies or political science classes. Come on and raise a hoof for a warm barn and bovine rights!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

Click, Clack, Moo - Lifeline Theatre  002

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type runs on Saturdays at 1:00pm and Sundays at 11am and 1pm through December 4th at Lifeline Theatre. The theatre is located at 6912 N. Glenwood in Rogers Park USA. Visit www.lifelinetheatre.com for more information. Moo!

 

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REVIEW: The Real Inspector Hound (Signal Ensemble)

Hammed-up Stoppard fails to find the laughs

 

(left to right) Moon (Philip Winston) and Birdboot (Jon Steinhagen) comment on the play while Cynthia (Meredith Bell Alvarez) and Inspector Hound (Joseph Stearns) act in the play, in Tom Stoppard’s 1968 satire “The Real Inspector Hound,” Signal Ensemble Theatre’s inaugural production in their own venue - running through September 18.

        
Signal Ensemble Theatre presents
    
The Real Inspector Hound
      
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Ronan Marra
Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice (map)
Through Sept. 18  | 
Tickets: $15–20  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

From the time the house opens on Signal Ensemble Theatre’s The Real Inspector Hound, to the close of the play, Charles Schoenherr lies unmoving on stage while the other characters cavort around him, never noticing this still figure at stage rear until nearly the end of the one-act comedy.

It just might be the best performance of the play.

Any theater reviewer who takes aim at Tom Stoppard‘s 1968 comedy risks being classified with Birdboot and Moon, the two pompous critics on whom the play focuses. Stoppard, once a critic himself, mercilessly skewers theater writers, painting them as arrogant, self-absorbed and none too ethical.

The critics comment on the play within a play taking place in front of them in highly affected terms, chat through the action, munch chocolates and begin to write their reviews mid-play. Birdboot (Jon Steinhagen), a married, middle-aged philanderer, flaunts his position to entice pretty actresses while piously proclaiming he does no such thing, while Moon (Philip Winston), his paper’s no. 2 critic, continually laments his second-string status. The two put in some comic turns, but they aren’t enough to overcome the broad strokes with which Director Ronan Marra paints the rest of the show.

The meta-play, an exaggerated English country-house mystery, a la The Mousetrap, takes places in what Mary O’Dowd as Mrs. Drudge, the creepy, scenery-chewing housekeeper, tells us is the "drawing room of Lady Muldoon’s country residence one morning in early spring." Scenic Designer Melania Lancy has created a fine drawing-room set in Signal’s spiffy new theater, the former home of now Los Angeles-based Breadline Theatre Group, a 50-seat venue in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood.

(left to right) Cynthia (Meredith Bell Alvarez) listens to Mrs. Drudge's (Mary O'Dowd) story about the new visitor, in Tom Stoppard’s 1968 satire “The Real Inspector Hound,” Signal Ensemble Theatre’s inaugural production in their own venue. Photo by Johnny Knight

(left to right) Cynthia (Meredith Bell Alvarez) flirts with Inspector Hound (Joseph Stearns) while Mrs. Drudge (Mary O'Dowd) takes notice, in Tom Stoppard’s 1968 satire “The Real Inspector Hound,” Signal Ensemble Theatre’s inaugural production in their own venue. Photo by Johnny Knight (left to right) Mrs. Drudge (Mary O'Dowd), Inspector Hound (Joseph Stearns), and Cynthia (Meredith Bell Alvarez) react to a loud noise outside of the house, in Tom Stoppard’s 1968 satire “The Real Inspector Hound,” Signal Ensemble Theatre’s inaugural production in their own venue.  Photo by Johnny Knight

Wealthy widow Lady Cynthia Muldoon (Meredith Bell Alvarez), is entertaining her lover, Simon Gascoyne (John Blick) and — to his embarrassment — Felicity Cunningham (Katie Genualdi), the ingenue he’s also been seeing. Added to the menage is the wheelchair-bound Major Magnus Muldoon (Colby Sellers), half-brother to Lady Cynthia’s late husband, who lusts after his hostess. Meanwhile, the radio announces that a murderous madman is loose in the neighborhood and Inspector Hound (Joseph Stearns), a dog of a police detective, arrives on the scene.

As the play becomes more existential, the critics break through the fourth wall and get drawn into the action on stage. In this production, comic business is piled so high that the parody becomes a parody of itself, laden with overdrawn gestures and pointless shtick, such as when characters continually lift a telephone receiver for no apparent reason. It doesn’t help that the pace crawls.

Through it all, Schoenherr lies, still and untwitching. That’s acting.

   
  
Review: ★½
  
  

Note: Allow time for finding street parking, as well as extra time for traveling to the theater on nights when the Cubs play at home.

 (L to R) Birdboot (Jon Steinhagen) and Moon (Philip Winston) write their reviews of the play during the play, Signal Ensemble Theatre’s inaugural production in their new venue   Photo by Johnny Knight. (L to R) Birdboot (Jon Steinhagen) and Moon (Philip Winston) write their reviews of the play during the play, Signal Ensemble Theatre’s inaugural production in their new venue   Photo by Johnny Knight.

        
        

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REVIEW: Hesperia (Right Brain Project)

An Exploration of Love and Trust

 

     IanDaisy03

   
The Right Brain Project presents
  
Hesperia
   
Written by Randall Colburn
Directed by
Nathan Robbel
at
RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
through August 14th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The Right Brain Project is staging an intriguing production called Hesperia. This show exposes how love, friendship, and trust transcend class and social mores. The playwright, Randall Colburn, takes these themes and puts them smack dab in post-modern America, offering up some interesting musings on what happens to those who buy into the American Dream and the underbelly of that dream.

Right Brain Project's "Hesperia" by Randall Colburn In the opening scene we are introduced to Claudia and Ian played by Natalie DiCristofano and Billy Fenderson respectively. Ian has shown up at Claudia’s door in the small town of Hesperia not far from where they grew up. Ms. DiCristofano is a sylph-like beauty that exudes vulnerability and a hard edge at the same time. The character of Claudia is has come to this town to shake off her past as a porn actress. She is now a born again Christian and engaged to marry the youth minister at the local church. Billy Fenderson also has a wonderful edge as a man who is trying to escape the past but perhaps got in deeper than he should have.

Claudia and Ian are childhood best friends and were partners in porn apparently working only with each other. The porn career for both of them seems to have been done on a lark or a childish dare that got out of hand. Claudia has escaped, but there are thugs on Ian’s trail. Being saved or born again is an escape for both characters – but who really takes it to heart is the lingering question for both of them.

Claudia is engaged to Trick whose real name is Trevor. The nickname is a result of youthful horsing around with language. It is an interesting choice for the character considering his fiancée’s former profession. (I wonder if the playwright was going for homage to Tennessee Williams with the double entendre.) Nick Freed plays the role of Trick with an endearing innocence and country boy energy. He keeps the energy level high, especially when drilling young Aaron for the state Bible Bee. It is a finely balanced portrait of fundamentalist America without the judgmental sneer that is evident in other works, and Nick Freed embodies the innocence and the frustration of having been anointed in the ministry. Trick tells Claudia that his gift is discernment that comes into play when Ian shows up and tries to reclaim his small town past. Trick accepts without judgment and with a trusting open heart. Claudia knows better in spite of her innocent past with Ian.

 

ClaudiaTrick01 Hesperia06

Trick fixes Ian up on a date with a nice girl from church named Daisy, played by Katy Albert with a refreshing country girl sexiness, looking clean scrubbed and apple cheeked like a 50’s Ladies Home Journal girl. Daisy is instantly smitten with the new boy in town, no doubt unaware of his extensive experience. Albert and Fenderson have good chemistry; the post date with the two of them is timed perfectly and staged with a voyeuristic flair. The sex scene is done well, with an edge of discomfort and shame. Surprisingly it’s Trick that feels the shame while Daisy wants him to stay.

The one chink in the play is the character of Aaron. It’s played well by Danny Mulae, but feels like a throwaway device for shock effect. Aaron finds a DVD of Claudia and Ian’s early work. The interaction between Ian and Aaron feels somehow false. Trick’s character alludes to Aaron starting to show interest in sex and then the boy comes off like the “bad seed,” interrogating Ian about the film. Also, some of Mr. Fenderson’s lines get lost due to either odd staging or poor enunciation.

This drawback really should be remedied because Ian’s character is open for judgment and it could be made clearer regarding why he should not be judged harshly. By the time the wedding of Trick and Claudia takes place Ian has been picked up by the thugs calling for him from California. Everything falls into place for Claudia, but did she turn on her former best friend or did he willingly return to his former life:  The matter is not easily resolved in a neat package, which is more realistic than Ian settling down with Daisy and popping out the kids. It is also Hesperia Photosatisfying that Trick and Claudia don’t have an instant sexual connection on their wedding night. Claudia has more experience but doesn’t want the same feelings from before. It is honest, painful, funny, and wonderful to observe.

Throughout the production the actors are confined to a small stage with seating around the perimeter, remaining on stage during other scenes. The actors remain in character with the emotional impact from the previous scene remaining fresh. This is a contemplative work that requires that the audience focus on the actors’ subtleties. The sparseness of the stage is a good choice as is the audience seating. I don’t know if it was deliberate but the backless seats caused me to be more in tune with the play. It took effort and concentration to sit comfortably as well as watch the stage. It is an integrative approach at best, and I felt for the actors having to be still and not drown in sweat without a stage exit. Here’s my heartfelt wish for a better air conditioner-you all deserve one!

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Hesperia plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm through August 14th at RBP Rorschach Theatre, 4001 N. Ravenswood. The theatre is easily accessible by CTA or Metra. Call 773-750-2033 or go to www.therbp.org for tickets or more information.

IanDaisy02

 

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REVIEW: Aftermath (Signal Ensemble Theatre)

Life of Brian – a rolling visionary

 

Aftermath 2 Aftermath 5Aftermath 1  
  
Signal Ensemble Theatre presents
 
Aftermath
 
Written and directed by Ronan Marra
at Raven Theatre, West Stage, 6157 N. Clark  (map)
through June 6th  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I can’t hear the name Rolling Stones without the sound of “Jumping Jack Flash” appearing in my head. I can clearly see the Stones on Ed Sullivan – menacing and Aftermath 5kind of nasty in a sexy bad boy way. The tabloid stories and biographies ‘as told to’ are plentiful with the legendary musicians looking into the camera or artfully demurring. The Signal Ensemble Theatre’s production of Aftermath peers into the unsung genius of Brian Jones.

Writer/director Ronan Marra discovered Brian Jones’ story as a teenager and developed this play as a balanced and loving homage. Nick Vidal as Mick Jagger infuses a frisky and explosive energy into the performance. He slightly resembles Jagger and has a decent voice. Vidal veers into the operatic when singing “Lady Jane,” which threw me off a bit. Marra’s Jagger is an ego driven and preening icon. The reenactments of group interviews come off as both funny and painful to see how Jagger downplayed Jones’ contributions to music. He made himself and Keith Richards the centerpieces instead of acknowledging collaboration as a group.

Aaron Snook plays the role of Brian Jones. Snook speaks directly to the audience post mortem. He plays the drug-addled and mentally ill Jones with a childlike quality. Snook imparts a sympathetic edge that tempered the violence and tantrums for which Jones is remembered. Marra’s direction has Jones literally fading away, the lights making his blonde hair and pale skin even more so.

Comic relief comes in the form of Joseph Stearns and Bries Vannon as Keith Richards and Charlie Watts respectively. Richards’ drug use still leaves people wondering how he is alive. Stearns does a great imitation of Richards and plays the stoner beautifully. In a television interview, Jagger is seen doing most of the talking with the host but the focus is on Richards’ interaction with the host’s sidekick played by Phillip Winston. The best line of the night went to Stearns as well. (I’m thinking of Aftermath 1 getting “whiskey stealing interrogation banshee” put on a tee shirt). Vannon’s depiction of reticent drummer Charlie Watts is excellent in spite of no real physical resemblance. Vannon infuses the role with a dry and sweet manner. The running joke is that Watts always threatened to quit the band but never did.

Ensemble member Simone Roos ably plays the role of rock chick Anita Pallenberg. It has only been a recent occurrence that the women passed around by the bands have been telling their sides of the stories. To Marra’s credit, he writes Pallenberg as more than a groupie. The scenes between Roos and Snook are violent and painful as Jones’ paranoia and insecurity increase from the drugs and fear of abandonment.

Andrew Yearick, in the role of George Harrison, is a nice surprise. He recently appeared in The House of Yes at The Artistic Home Studio (our review ★★★). Yearick portrays a mellow and spiritual Harrison around the time of his exploration into Indian music. He and Snook share a duet on “Norwegian Wood,” self accompanied by guitar and sitar. Harrison is introducing the sitar to Jones as something that is tuned into the player and then they rush through the song, a pacing that is much too fast.

It is to be noted that this talented group of actors actually play the instruments and do a stellar job of it. You’ll no doubt find yourself grooving to the irresistible beats and riffs. On the night that I went, It was pretty evident that most of us were Stones fans.

The theatre is decorated with reenactments of classic Rolling Stones 45 and album covers. The stage is flanked by vertical rows of vinyl records in both sizes and set up for a concert. This is an appropriate choice since it really comes down to the music after an exploration of the legend. Aftermath is a poignant remembrance of Brian Jones and of a time when the world seemed much bigger.

 

  
  
Rating:  ★★★
  
  

Aftermath runs through June 6th, 2010. Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays at 8:30pm, Sundays at 3:30pm. (May 24th performance is at 7:30 pm) Tickets are available at www.signalensemble.com or call 773-347-1350. Be prepared to rock!

 

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Review: Right Brain Project’s “The Modern Prometheus”

More Entertainment Than Intellectual Challenge

 

The Right Brain Project presents:

The Modern Prometheus

adapted by Brad Lawrence
directed by David Marcotte and Nathan Robbel
thru November 21st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

IT 3_5x2 - Front - Portrait The Right Brain Project enjoyed success with Brad Lawrence’s play Chalk in 2007, a gumshoe noir retelling of the Oedipus myth. Their collaboration seems a constructive fit with this world premiere of The Modern Prometheus, Lawrence’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein set in the middle of modern debates between science and religion. It is definitely a more thoughtful piece than most Frankenstein versions—one that RBP gears toward maximum entertainment–but it falls short of being the intellectual challenge touted by its press.

There’s no denying the thrill and accessibility of this production. Right Brain Project has not sacrificed the guilty pleasures of the Frankenstein myth, but tried to integrate them with the play’s more serious content. But before getting into special effects, first and foremost, the production is well grounded in even casting and strong performances. Directed by David Marcotte and Nathan Robbel, the progressive pacing and cast invigorate what could have been a well-worn story stuffed with stock roles.

Dennis Newport, in particular, shows depth and range in his humanistic portrayal of Pastor Friedmann. Erin Elizabeth Orr conveys the full-bodied charm and intelligence of a Victorian heroine as Victor Frankenstein’s fiancé, Elizabeth. Tom McGrath makes a delightfully smooth and insouciant villain as the devious lab assistant, Henry. Colby Sellers’ Frankenstein Monster achieves that badly needed balance between terror and pathos to make his creature compelling; while Ned Record (Schultz) and Katherine Jordan (Selma) make a vivid and memorable father-daughter pair.

prometheusStrange that the performance that leaves something of a vacuum is the man of the hour himself, Victor Frankenstein (Nathan Robbel). Brad Lawrence’s Frankenstein is more driven young scientist than mad doctor. Still, Robbel’s interpretation seems a little too relaxed to render a man capable of groundbreaking experiments, let alone playing God.

Likewise, Lawrence’s writing overplays the challenge Frankenstein’s discoveries present to Christian faith, even in this 19th century period. The text shows very little recognition that faith itself is a slippery thing.

In the play, little Selma dies, to be brought back to life dramatically by Victor. Victor Frankenstein’s discoveries have temporarily subverted the natural order. Yet, the scene wherein Pastor Friedmann presents Selma’s testimony that she saw nothing in death, neither heaven nor hell, simply does not hold water. Any tent revivalist preacher could make hash of that “evidence” of God’s non-existence in two minutes.

If fundamentalist Christians in our era build Creationist museums, which squeeze billion of years of geological time into 6000 years of creation, then they can discount any evidence that does not fit the narrative of the faithful. Sadly, Lawrence’s text overshoots this nuance to make the struggle between science and faith a direct and full-throttle wrestling match.

Lawrence shows greater sophistication placing Frankenstein’s discoveries in the context of the Franco-Prussian War. What chaos would erupt if news broke out that brought people all over Europe to Ingolstadt, clamoring for their war dead to be brought back to life? Further recognition that, most likely, the rich would be harvesting the poor to resuscitate their dead would lend even greater horror to Frankenstein’s macabre achievement. Lawrence’s work also shows tremendous promise in the acknowledgement–from the mouth of the pastor, no less–that war is a “terrible invention.” It convincingly depicts the ambiguous, compromised relationship that Frankenstein has with his own creation. A little more consideration of whether any invention actually improves humanity’s lot and this play could be all that it intellectually aspires to be.

Dramatically, the end of the second act requires clean up. One moment especially strains all credulity: the pastor hands over Selma’s prostrate body to the Creature he had denounced as a “vessel of heresy” two minutes before. It’s moments like these that I deeply appreciate the actors’ ability to go full-bore, but they must be corrected all the same.

As is, The Modern Prometheus still provides good, solid entertainment. Special nods go to Anthony Ingram (set design), Mark Hurni (light design), Sarah Elizabeth Miller (costume/makeup/props design), Amy Sokol (music director), and Christopher M. Walsh (fight choreographer) for providing the well balanced and vital special effects needed to vivify a timeless tale.

Rating: «««