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Theatre Review by David Hurst - February 17, 2020

Stephanie Berry and Rob Morrison
Photo by Joan Marcus
Running in repertory with Classic Stage Company's ill-advised production of Kate Hamill's Dracula is an even more misguided new dramatization of Mary Shelley's 1818 epistolary novel, Frankenstein. Written by playwright Tristan Bernays, who replaced Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm as adapter, this Frankenstein is a tedious and uninvolving slog. Directed with lackluster inspiration by Timothy Douglas and running 80 minutes without an intermission, Shelley's story about man's inhumanity to man is now a story about a theatre company's inhumanity to its audience.

Unlike the 2011 National Theatre production that co-starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller (who alternated the lead roles of Victor Frankenstein and The Creature) and boasted a large cast and lavish productions values, CSC's Frankenstein boasts only two performers and a bare bones staging. Stephanie Berry portrays both The Creature and Victor Frankenstein, and Rob Morrison, who provides musical accompaniment on guitar, mandolin and dulcimer, occasionally joins Berry playing supporting roles, including Victor Frankenstein. Berry and Morrison are talented; they are not the problem. It's the flat adaptation combined with a static staging that's the problem.

Bizarrely, the show begins with Morrison coming onstage and tuning his instruments. The audience isn't sure if this is part of the show or exactly what's going on. (Couldn't this tuning have been done before the audience was seated?) Finally, Morrison sits downstage, left, on a chair and begins creating sound effects on his guitar. Berry gives us a short prologue as Dr. Frankenstein, which is followed by the birth of the creature and thirty to forty minutes of unspoken storytelling as the creature discovers who he is and his place in the world around him, before he begins his journey to Geneva to find his creator. None of this is theatrically compelling or emotionally involving and the story moves at a glacial pace.

Additionally, despite the fact Douglas and Bernays have cast an African-American woman to play The Creature (a bold and laudable decision), there's no discernible comment or deeper meaning ascribed to her casting. The Creature refers to himself as a man in his request to Dr. Frankenstein that he make a mate for him who will love him as he goes through life, so are we to assume that Berry's presence is simply colorblind and gender-blind casting? If not, anything more profound isn't revealed to us.

Through March 8, 2020
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street
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