Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Gialanella has taken the main elements from Shelley's gothic romantic horror, added a few touches from the early film adaptations, and formed them into a fairly straightforward telling of the young Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his desire to reanimate and recreate life from the dead. The linear thrust of the play, which includes copious amounts of narration, does a fairly good job of portraying the conflicted thoughts of Victor and evokes our empathy for the Creature, but it also plods along at points with only a few instances of true tension and terror.
Fortunately, director Chris Hamby and his crackerjack creative team have ensured those moments of horror are delivered well, with a superb laboratory set design by Jason Washburn and Mike Armstrong that is expertly lit by Jeff A. Davis and features evocative sound effects from Stephen Christensen under Brett Aiken's technical direction. This talented group also deliver, with just a few small set pieces and perfect lighting and sound elements, a spooky graveyard that opens the show, as well as scenes set at a serene campfire outside a cottage and a brightly lit bedroom that both turn deadly. Brian Maticic's fight choreography is so realistically staged it had the person next to me cringing several times. DeAndrea Vaughn's impressive make-up designs include a deathly facial hue for the Creature and a large scar across the back of his scalp that appears to have fresh blood congealed around the dozens of stitches. The period perfect and lush costumes by Landis York expertly instill with rich fabrics or tattered cloth the status quo of each character. Wesley Skinner's original musical composition provides numerous moments of perfect underscore for the scene changes as well some of the scarier moments.
Many adaptations of Shelley's story have painted the creature as a complete monster, yet Gialanella, just like Shelley, makes Frankenstein's creation the character with the most layers and growth, and Adam Cantrell is stunning in the part. It's hard to believe that you can actually feel compassion for someone who kills, yet in Cantrell's compelling and nuanced performance it's easy to feel a deep sympathy for this lost soul who didn't ask to be born.
Wes John's Victor successfully comes across as an obsessive and possessed man whose desire to reanimate life virtually consumes him. As his fiancée Elizabeth, Shandi Ilyse projects devotion and love for Victor, even though he refuses to tell her what he is doing in his laboratory. Cliff Williams is quite good as Victor's friend who gets pulled into the experiment yet finds himself conflicted by what his friend is aspiring to do. As the blind man the Creature befriends, Robert Peters is entirely believable, not only as this older blind man but also as the caring and compassionate friend.
While this adaptation of Frankenstein may not be perfect, Theater Works' production has a talented creative team and clean direction that keeps the terror in check and the tone of the play never approaching humor. While you may come in hoping to experience the chills and thrills the story is known for, and you definitely will witness a few of those moments, it will be the profound performance by Adam Cantrell that you'll be remembering long after the curtain call.
Frankenstein runs through October 29th, 2017, at Theater Works at 8355 West Peoria Avenue in Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623-815-7930.
Directed by Chris Hamby