The Kravis Center For The Performing Arts recently presented The Flying Machine's adaptation of Frankenstein, from the novel by Mary Shelley.
From the start, Shelley seemed to question whether the monster of this story is really the creation or the creator. Writers Jason Lindner and Joshua Carlebach have taken this question in hand in creating their stage adaptation of Frankenstein. They have given weight to the arrogance of man manipulating nature, and the inherent frailties of that presumption. They also cite the inclusion of some elements from Dostoyevsky's Crime And Punishment. As author Joshua Carlebach explains, the character "Raskolnikov is a kind of Frankenstein, and it's the same Promethean mythology."
Writers Joshua Carlebach and Richard Crawford are co-founders and co-artistic directors of The Flying Machine. They combined forces in Manhattan to form the company after they met in the mid-1990s in Paris as students of pantomime guru Jacques Lecoq. The Flying Machine has become known as a small company of multinational performers respected for its use of Lecoq techniques combined with literary texts. This adaptation of Frankenstein was commissioned by UCCS/Theatreworks in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and had its world premiere at the Soho Rep Theatre in NYC in December of 2004.
In what appears to be the slums of London, the set is walled with swinging windows and doors. They are ever in motion as the cast of eight creates the illusion of layers, depth and movement on the stage. There is a surrealistic spin to the setting as the cast members are all enhanced with pointed elfin ears and unattractive prosthetic teeth. Lighting by James Japhy Weideman complements the squalor of the setting. The music by composer Jacob Lawson is also interesting, and the play benefits from its inclusion. Perhaps the assignment of specific melodic themes for Victor Frankenstein and his creation could take this one step further.
At the beginning of the story, the audience sees Victor as a child. He is given a puzzle box by his mother. What was an attempt to entertain him and develop his mental acuity becomes symbolic of his adult obsession. He is forever mentally searching to find life's lock and key to unlock what secrets lay inside. Rather than a philosophic search, his search is biological. We are led to believe his motivation is the death of his mother from an unnamed illness. Had he understood her illness, he could have saved her.
Victor's quest is defined as a young man. While in school, he is assigned a science project by his professor. He chooses to select a species of frog whose future he feels is endangered by a type of fish that preys upon it. He alters his frog specimen by adding to it parts of other frog species. His goal is to benefit his creation, for he has left it better equipped to handle its environment. But in creating this aberration, he is second guessing nature and its design - daring to presume that he knows better than basic evolution.
Victor then sees a man named Oleg Gershon who seems of little value to anyone. He is a drunkard and a bully with a bad leg, who has deserted his wife and daughter. Victor believes he can rebuild a better, stronger, more worthy version of Oleg to the benefit of all. To do this, he kills Oleg by pushing him down a set of stairs and reconstructs him by adding parts from other people; he then brings Oleg back to life. Oleg becomes Frankenstein's monstrous creation, though in time his original nature resurfaces. In the end, Frankenstein's rebuilt man, like his rebuilt frog, weakens and dies in a world in which they were never meant to exist. More clarity is needed on stage at this cathartic moment, for it is slightly unclear as to why Oleg is dying and when Victor gets it. As the show closes, we are given a glimpse of a remorseful Frankenstein beginning to soften to the world around him. Perhaps the key to life that he seeks is the acceptance that some things are best left to God and nature.
Robert Ross Parker aptly plays Victor Frankenstein as a driven but socially inept man. Victor's friend and colleague, Henry Clerval, as played by Jason Lindner, is foppishly energetic with braying laughter. Adrienne Kapstein, as Victor's maid, has an understated tenderness. The show is a strong ensemble piece, however, with intelligent acting and complete characterizations throughout from all the actors. It is an ambitious artistic undertaking that is more cerebral than commercial. This is a thinking person's show.
This production of The Flying Machine's Frankenstein appeared April 6 - April 8, 2006 at the Marshall E. Rinker, Sr. Playhouse in The Raymond F. Kravis Center For The Performing Arts. The Kravis Center is located at 701 Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach, FL. For information on their season, you may contact them at 561-832-7469 (561-832-SHOW) or 1-800-572-8471 (1-800-KRAVIS-1) or online at www.kravis.org.