‘FRANKENSTEIN’ – PURPOSEFULLY-PACED, FINELY-TUNED MASTERPIECE!
The world premiere of the Court Theatre production of Manual Cinema’s brilliant and inspired retelling of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN unfolded Saturday night with dozens of instruments and sound-making devices, six retro overhead projectors, layered imagery, hundreds of puppets large and small, live video capture, animation, five actors, four musicians, a soaring musical score and, in the end, a moment so touching that the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up.
Perhaps it is the piercing connection with camera angles reminiscent of the silent film era throughout and from which the very best parts of this production benefits. There is so much happening all at once, it is hard to say, however, one thing is for sure: Manual Cinema’s FRANKENSTEIN is a purposefully-paced, finely-tuned masterpiece that evolves on many sensory levels commanding attention at every turn. With a gloriously expressive ensemble – delivering multiple characterizations, nonstop action, and whimsical imagery – words have been rendered virtually unnecessary.
There are, of course, words. Titles mainly, with captions and passages that guide the storyline incorporating Shelley’s life with that of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. There is no choreography in the traditional sense, and yet, this complex, organic, multi-media production is expertly choregraphed from a storyboard that must look more like an orchestral arrangement.
As experiential storytelling, Manual Cinema thrusts the audience into unchartered territory, roaming outside the bounds that actors typically inhabit with scenery, props and musical instruments, exploring the darkness with shards of light on the fringe. Their brand of highly-defined reflections on an opaque screen, electrifying movements erupting in the shadows or darting objects and figures from side-to-side and top-to-bottom is ingenious. It is all buoyed by the imagination, and often sardonic humor, of gifted creators/actors/animators for the sole benefit of the camera that captures what the audience observes is developing into a series of momentary statements that collectively propel the story forward.
The marvelously talented team of artistic directors -- Drew Dir (credited with the concept of FRANKENSTEIN), Sarah Fornace and Julia VanArsdale Miller (co-devisors of the work and central performers with Leah Casey, Sara Sawicki and Myra Su) and Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman (original music and sound design) – lead a village of supporting artists including puppet designer Lizi Breit (with Dir), musicians Zachary Good, Deidre Huckabay, Lia Kohl and Peter Ferry on a performing landscape and projections designed by Rasean Davonte Johnson, Mieka van der Ploeg costumes and Claire Chrzan lighting design.
Manual Cinema’s FRANKENSTEIN was in early collaborative development with assistance from the Orchard Project and The Public Theater’s Devised Theater Initiative with the University of Colorado. The production has benefited from a 2018 Jim Henson Workshop Grant and commissioning support from the University of California. The Court Theatre and the Manual Cinema team have made the innerworkings on stage available to the audience following the performance, an opportunity to inspire the next generation of storytellers you should be bringing to see this extraordinary production. Plan to stick around. There is a lot to see.
through December 2nd
5535 S. Ellis Avenue