Frankenstein – I Go To Pieces

A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, like most Important And Classic Novels, really only has like one good part.  A mad scientist sews up a man out of man pieces and then fires up the fucker (and if you think this is a sexy premise, and would like to make a play out of it, just know it’s called The Rocky Horror Show).  That’s one incredible scene, for sure, but then the rest of the book prominently features Victor Frankenstein wandering around a frozen landscape, whining.  Maybe it’s because the book is sort of boring that I fell head over heels for Robert Kauzlaric’s theatrical version of the “manbaby moans about his own damned decisions” story.  It’s got a LOT of good parts.  In fact, it’s mostly if not all good parts.  Something that Frankenstein’s monster (ughhhh, people who make a whole thing out of this distinction, you are being incredibly tedious, PLZ STAHP) can’t really say, amirite?

Director Melissa LaMartina’s instincts for this material are spot on, and the best thing about it is that she makes a story that everyone already knows surprising.  Gothic horror is a hard genre to pull off without feeling campy, but she manages it beautifully.  The way that she layers the action, with actors haunting the background, spare yet claustrophobic.  The staging, particularly in scenes that occur high above the ground and use an eight foot puppet (more on this in a second), intimate, but also a bit too open, like having a fight with your lover on the edge of an invisible cliff.  LaMartina and Molly Marguiles, who is the gender-swapped Victoria Frankenstein, showcase the dream relationship between director and actor; Marguiles creates a character that feels unique, LaMartina calibrates the rest of the piece around her.

The results are impressive.  Marguiles is a powerhouse, she both carries and steals the show (with one exception).  This is a woman who loved her father, who is in pain, and who pays too dear a price for both.  Her face twists into a tragic mask when she speaks out of her heart; her figure appears hunched in her black dress, morphed by her suffering into a body three times its age.  It’s masterful work.  She’s clearly the heart of the play, but the cast creates quite the ensemble to frame her, and within, there are standout performances:  I particularly the levity provided by Caitlin Rife as Victoria’s best friend, Helena, and also by Hannah Folger as her little brother, William.  Cynthia Miller has some nice moments as Victoria’s grief stricken mother, and Kim Le strikes pitch perfect, ominous notes early on as Justine, her adopted sister, who (predictably) meets a bitter end.

Jess Rassp and Chris Reuther are the geniuses who make Frankenstein’s monster literally live and breathe.  Marguiles holds her own, but damned if it isn’t hard not to be upstaged by this thing.  I was so intensely into the fucking puppet that my date informed me that I made a “sex noise” at one point, which, yikes, sorry, other small theater patrons.  It’s an incredibly beautiful, fascinating creation, driven by a visual artist’s sensibility with a theater maker’s hand.  The choral speaking achieved by Steven Howison (who spearheads the puppeteering) and the rest of the ensemble sent chills down my back.  Set design by Sierra Ho is lovely, impressionistic work (I loved the arched window that suggested everything about a remote cabin) and Daniel Weissglass supports the atmosphere with moody lighting that makes the most of shadows.  Queen Wolf’s soundscape is dramatic, echoing, dim, just perfect.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Cohesion’s Frankenstein is rare indeed, a gem, an island of what is unique and beautiful about Baltimore small theater.  Passionate direction, a killer leading lady, and a walking piece of art transform a dusty Halloween costume into a fucking cabinet of horrors.  I was riveted, and I guarantee you will be, too.

Frankenstein plays at “The Fallout Shelter” at United Evangelical Church until March 10th.

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