Regional Reviews: San Francisco
An esoteric production of Frankenstein by Theatre of Yugen
Theatre of Yugen brought back their Noh-distilled adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which ended Sunday, October 31st. The production was a huge success last year and performed to sell out audiences every night. This haunting one hour and fifteen minute adaptation of the classic was helped by Longtime Artistic Associate Erik Ehn. The arcane production is an experimental work based on his discipline of the classic Japanese theater forms Noh and Kyogen. The Theatre of Yugen is a merging of two Japanese words: "yu" meaning deep, quiet other worldly, and "gen" which translates to subtle, profound and dark. The company has just recently celebrated its 25th anniversary of presenting original material and exploring dramatic and literary classics. They have traveled all over the country and have been sponsored by the Consul General of Japan on several occasions.
Erik Ehn's Frankenstein is esoteric in its treatment, using the core of Mary Shelley's text. The adapter has taken only some of the sentences of the author's novel with much emphasis on movements of the cast. In some instances the, small cast repeats over and over again sentences that come from the classic in a monotone that is reminiscent of Japanese Samurai films. Director Ehn also uses live music composed by Suki O"Kane and Allen Whitman who use bowed stringed instruments, bells, samplers, drum and hand percussion in creating a new hybrid vocabulary influenced by the traditions of Noh musical structures. The small assemble also use their own voices in several instances to sing passages that are beyond understanding. Hand puppets are introduced by a small puppet theatre in the center of the stage, or puppeteer Max with a hand puppet representing William, the son of Victor Frankenstein. Max has devised an amazing puppet to represent the young boy which has a plastic see through face that also lights up with various emotions.
Erik Ehn has kept the story of Frankenstein very simple, opening in the North Pole and ending in the same location. Staging is very sparse on the very large stage with icy plastic shards that are used in various ways. Stephen Siegel's lighting design gives the production great emotional impact. The story centers on the monster's loneliness and his intelligence. This monster is bright and he has learned a lot on his own. He articulates like a highly intellectual person. Lluis Valls, who plays the monster, does not look anyway like those Frankensteins put on by Universal Pictures. This man-made object is tall and straight-backed, with a bamboo shoot arching his neck where upon a Japanese Noh costume hangs. Valls is excellent in the role as the emotionless monster.
John Oglevee gives an effectual performance as Victor Frankenstein. He flawlessly executes the movements and speech patterns of the Noh dialogue. Libby Zilber and Jubilith Moore who play various roles are excellent in this interesting production.
Frankenstein's production demands patience since the movements are slow and sometimes the speech becomes not intelligentable. However, the whole production has a compelling effect with the combination of light, sound and direction.