I admit to being wary when actor/composer/musician Rob Morrison (wool cap, ripped jeans) tunes his instruments in front of us. CSC’s thrust stage is outfitted with a full length mirror, long table, seats, a flood light, some milk cans, a low chest; banjo, dulcimer, and guitar. The look is minimal and Steampunk. (John Doyle – it works) – guitar (with EBow) reverberates. While sound is aptly dissonant, unmelodic music and prose lyrics follow suit, ill-formed and unappealing.
Enter a second actor (Stephanie Berry), who confusingly plays both Dr. Frankenstein and the monster – alter ego (wool cap, clodhopper shoes, cotton pants). She takes a book from the table, handing it to the musician. He reads (poorly):
“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils… I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created. His eyes – if they may be called eyes –were fixed on me…”
We watch the creature (Berry) come alive, rising from the table confused and distressed. It tests its limbs, hears its heart, looks in the mirror (recognizing ugliness with nothing to compare?), tries vegetables left in one can – realizing they’re meant to eat? (“Yuck!”), finds berries in another, puts its curious hands in a fire. Mime is good, script is not.
Accompanied by sounds, riffs and morning birdsong, time passes. (We see the creature sleep.) Without source, prose morphs to elaborate, poetic sentences, many from the original volume. We learn the monster is well read. Music “feels soft and warm. I sit and listen and it sings to me, to my belly and my head.” Incidents with an old blind man and a little boy become violent without adequately presenting innocence of intention.
The doctor glimpses the monster looking in at the family from a window. Confrontation ensues. Frankenstein is surprised at his creature’s evolution. A bride is demanded and, according to what we observe, one is created. The “female” then disappears with no explanation. We assume the maker has not kept his word.
His creation kills again, this time vengefully. Frankenstein chases it to the ends of the earth “Come on great creator/Chase me like you mean it…” the song goes. When his “father” dies, he’s again alone in the world. Pain is visceral.
Director Timothy Douglas does well by Stephanie Berry but seems to not care that Rob Morrison is merely reciting.
There are two people, but only one real actor on stage. Stephanie Berry has presence and skill. The story has big holes, attributable to writing, not time. That two characters come out of the same mouth may be in the tradition of storytelling, but without distinction, has issues.
This is an idea unsuccessfully fleshed out.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Stephanie Berry
Classic Stage Company presents
Frankenstein by Tristan Bernays
Based on the novel by Mary Shelley
Directed by Timothy Douglas
Lynn F. Angelson Theater at Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th Street
In Repertory with Kate Hamill’s Dracula
Through March 18, 2020