Catalyst Theatre: “Frankenstein”

Frankenstein is frightfully good.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system – Frakenstein was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Theatrical in the purest sense of the word (if I can claim such a definition exists), the production demonstrates a remarkable congruence of the script, music, lighting, and design – no one element is out of place or is anything except seamless within the musical as a whole. I am almost certain this is due to the very close collaborative relationship between writer/director/composer Jonathan Christenson and production designer Bretta Gerecke. While I can’t speak to what the typical process is, I gather that it is an apt luxury for the development of a show’s design to take place alongside alterations to the script.

I do believe I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein early on in my university years, but to tell you the truth, I can’t remember much of the story. I thought this would be a disadvantage coming into this production, but was I ever wrong. The tragic tale of Victor and his fall from grace was not only accessible, but perhaps even more rich and powerful with Christenson’s interpretation supported by Gerecke’s design. The text was re-written in ABCB rhyming form, allowing for a less jarring transition to the musical segueways. This version of Frankenstein was also not without some black humor – there were more than a few moments where the audience’s hesitation at whether laughing out loud was acceptable or not was palpable (the “going to Hell in a handbasket” number was one of these instances). My only nitpick with the words chosen was a slight overuse of the term “fate” – I think Victor’s story is more meaningful with less emphasis on destiny and more on the context of his life that led to the unfortunate decisions he made. Sure, “fate” allows for many rhyming options, but it is the monosyllabic equivalent of an easy way out.

The cast was fantastic – I was impressed with Nick Green’s agility as Henry, Tracy Penner’s ethereal presence as Lucy, and Andrew Kushnir’s consistent contortion of his hands, physically manifesting Victor’s twisted internal emotions. George Szilagyi as the Creature, however, deserves to be singled out – not only was he able to sympathetically convey the heartbreaking discovery of his monstrous appearance with a near full-face mask on, but even in his moments of unforgiving revenge, there lay a resonating note of injustice and misunderstanding.

As for the design – I will admit to needing to rely on the program for confirmation that Gerecke used paper to form the backbone of the costumes. I don’t feel too bad, however, as the texture, structures, and appearance she was able to achieve with paper was unique to the point of being magical. The fact that all characters were dressed in white neutralized each of them, allowing the audience to focus more closely on facial expressions and words spoken. Moreover, I am not sure if this was deliberate, but I loved the effect of seeing bits of white material being left behind on the stage as the actors moved about – it formed a literal representation of the impression left by individuals.

Frakenstein is the best candidate I have ever seen to offer a continuous production, Broadway-style, here in Edmonton. It must be a physically and emotionally taxing run for the actors, even for the three weeks in this remount, but I do believe it is too good for locals and tourists alike to miss. It thus goes without saying that Christenson and Gerecke’s next collaboration, Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Improbable Death of Edgar Allan Poe (scheduled for early 2009), will debut with expectations never before seen in the city’s theatre community.

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