Los Angeles Theater Review: FRANKENSTEIN (A Noise Within in Pasadena)

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by Dale Reynolds on August 22, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) wrote her famous “ghost story,” Frankenstein, in 1818, while on a vacation on Lake Geneva with her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, the explorer Lord Byron, and Dr. John Polidon. It was a gloomy summer and these Romantic poets each wrote a Gothic story of some kind to test their talents. Mary’s became the most famous of them, creating numerous stage and film adaptations.

British playwright Nick Dear wrote a reasonably authentic adaptation of her short novel in 2011, a version currently on display in an uneven production at A Noise Within. As directed by the veteran Michael Michetti, the production’s dark mood is enhanced by making the Monster (Michael Manuel) the center-piece of the tale. Set in Germany in the early 19th century, young scientist Victor Frankenstein (Kasey Mahaffy), newly married to Elizabeth (Erika Soto), has experimented with crimes against nature by obtaining newly-buried human parts and casually assembling them into an ugly whole, which he then generates into a living thing with the aid of lightning.

But the monster is cruelly abandoned by Victor and, learning about the world from the kindliness of the doomed and blind De Lacey (Harrison White), the creature strikes out at the world around him. Hounded by a terrified populace, he is eventually destroyed, after killing his maker and his new love, Victor’s Elizabeth.

But in addition to her story being a critic on the hubris of unbridled scientific inquiry, Shelley, the daughter of a famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97), condemns men’s constant stressing of women’s supposed inferiority to them, so Dear’s adaptation includes much of her political and social philosophy.

It’s a devilishly difficult play to get right for today’s audiences as it’s continuous darkness (literally for the first ten minutes-or-so when we see the effects of the monster’s birth and coming to intellectual prowess) and for its content, has had the worst effect in the inconsistent acting of these skilled performers, with a mixture of the style of the period and one of today.

At an intermission-less two hours, on the fine unit set of François-Pierre Couture, under Jared A. Seyeg’s expressive lighting, and the strongly-period costuming of Garry Lennon, it is further supported by the complex dark score of Robert Oriol, so the technical support is fantastic.

This is an experimental failure, as the tale of a romantic Promethean hero miserably failing in his attempt to help mankind, largely because of societal prejudice against non-attractive looks as well as male arrogance destroying itself is a fascinating, if sadly irritating, endurance test.

photos by Craig Schwartz

A Noise Within
3352 Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena
ends on September 8, 2019
for tickets, call 626.356.3121 or visit A Noise Within

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