By Pat Launer
You may think Halloween is over and through
But Beware! The Frankenstein monster’s at a theater near you!
THE SHOW: ‘The Frankenstein Project v.2.0,’ adapted by Kirsten Brandt from Mary Shelley’s 1818 gothic novel. v. 1.0 was a Sledgehammer work-in-progress in 1999
THE SCOOP: A very wild ride, at times visually and verbally exhilarating
THE STORY and BACKSTORY: The familiar, fabled and oft-distorted story concerns a monster created by a young student. Longing for sympathy and shunned by society, the creature ultimately turns evil and brings deadly retribution on the student for usurping the Creator’s prerogative. Shelley gave no name to the monster, but he is commonly (and erroneously) called Frankenstein — after his designer, the student. In Brandt’s feminist version, the doctor/student is a woman and so is her fiendish creation. Looming over them, reciting from the original text (and from Milton ’s “Paradise Lost”) , is a very pregnant Mary Shelley. The three Marys make for an unholy trinity, the perfect setup for the extensive debates about religion vs. science, which also figure prominently in Shelley’s work. Now, nearly 100 years later, the debate is more relevant than ever. Brandt, a long-time devotee and purveyor of the macabre, is always anxious to be on the dramatic and ideological cutting-edge. So her play confronts issues of medical morality, including face transplants (another Frankenstein!) and stem cell research (bane of Creationists). But she’s got a lot more on her mind – maybe more than can be contained in 100 intermissionless minutes: birth and death, motherhood and murder, dreams and abandonment, rape and resurrection, journalistic sensationalism – and the immortal soul. The issues tend to get muddled and muddied, and the verbiage often flies by at breakneck pace, but the production is frequently stunning. The irony, satire, symbolism and literary references may leave some behind in the dust. But this is the kind of play and production you just let wash over you.
THE PLAYERS: An excellent ensemble, headed up by an anguished Laura Lee Juliano as Mary Frankenstein, ethereal Elizabeth O’Hara Yager as the distraught, expectant Mary Shelley (who in real life, had four children, three of whom died in infancy); and Allison Riley, crazed, monstrous and seductive as the tormented Creation. Multiple characters are effectively played by the rest of the chameleon cast – Terril Miller, Walter Murray, John Polak and Ruff Yeager (especially hilarious as the Doctor, a rapid-fire spouter of muscle and organ names).
THE PRODUCTION : Brandt’s direction is specific, detailed and precise . Movements are mimicked and echoed; words and phrases recur. Most notably, verbally and visually, we are smacked repeatedly with the tortured cry of ‘What have I done?’ ( a question which should be asked a lot more frequently in high places — political, religious and executive). David Lee Cuthbert has re-created much of his original design, a bleak universe elucidated by provocative captions and videos, underscored by a wonderfully creepy soundscape composed by Jeff Mockus . Mary Larson’s costumes reflect the multiple tones of the piece: part horror, part lecture, part whimsy. With all its remarkable individual parts, the production remains visually arresting but textually chaotic.
THE LOCATION : At St. Cecilia’s – the last full production in the former funeral parlor before it’s attacked by the wrecking ball and Sledgehammer becomes homeless and itinerant. through November 20.
… I scored big at the 32nd annual San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards – four awards, in all four media outlets I cover: radio, online, magazine and TV documentary. The TV doc was the one about Luis Valdez that I wrote and co-produced. The radio review was for Jersey Boys – and I’ll get to celebrate with ‘em this weekend… off to NYC to the Broadway opening – red carpet, party and all! And oh yes, five other plays in four days. Stay tuned… more when I return…
… Speaking of celebrating, the Playwrights Project had a 20th Anniversary gala that was classy and dramatic and warmly affectionate. Craig Noel sang the Project’s praises, followed by four prior winners of the statewide Plays by Young Writers contest. All paid tribute to executive director Deborah Salzer, who has inspired so many young theatermakers and obviously touched their hearts: Jason Connors (a Patté Award winner for Henry Wants a Renaissance); Annie Weisman (who wrote Be Aggressive, which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse – and also won a Patté Award for Playwriting; currently working on The Essential Alice, a commission by LJP); Karen Hartman (whose Gum will get its local premiere at UCSD this season) and Jim Knable , who wrote the evening’s entertainment, Lost in Words. Geared for elementary school children (and currently on county-wide tour), the short play examines, in a light, musical way, the culture clashes confronted by Mexican immigrants. It’s the inspiring story of Sylvia (spunky Olivia Espinosa) and her Mom (credible Cassie Benavidez), recently arrived in the U.S. Sylvia wants to go to college and become a doctor. Her mother is more interested in the family; she wants Sylvia to work in her aunt’s store so she can raise money to bring her father and brother to the States. The Aunt (talented, energetic Sandra Ruiz) helps Sylvia do both, with the further assistance of her teacher (funny Brian Taraz) and classmate (endearing Chad Sakamoto). Candis Paule and Robert May directed and Beeb Salzer designed the set. The musical numbers were less capably handled than the comic and dramatic scenes, but the audience was clearly touched by the story. It was a lovely event all around; Deb and Company deserve all the praise they received and more, for the wonderful work they do.
… Post-Menopausal Monologues — ‘Tales from the Far Side of Fifty’ – 14 women from 58-87 share their stories and songs about the problems, terrors and humor of post middle-age. Little old ladies – NOT! ( my 87 year-old spitfire of a mother is one of ‘em, and my sister, Lonnie Burstein Hewitt, is the writer/producer). Delicia Turner Sonnenberg directs. These are Wild Women; hear ‘em roar ! Sunday, November 20 at 1:30pm in the Recital Hall of Balboa Park (near the Automotive Museum ). For info: firstname.lastname@example.org
…Ongoing, and generating a buzz… the evening of one-acts at 6th @ Penn Theatre, including the ubiquitous Monique Gaffney in I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda. Check it out. Off-nights, Sunday-Wednesday, through Nov. 16.
And in conjunction with the provocatively-tilted Adam Baum and the Jew Movie, 6th @ Penn is holding a forum about the play and its thorny issues of prejudice, identity and racial stereotyping. The symposium takes place on Thursday, November 3 at 6:45pm at Temple Ohr Shalom on 3rd Avenue . Moderated by Shirley Fishman, associate artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse, the panel discussion and audience Q&A will include the director, Glenn Paris, as well as representatives of the Anti-Defamation League and the Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies. Admission is free and attendees will receive vouchers for 1/2 –price tickets to the play.
…Instant Theatre’s gonna getcha ! Coming up at 6th @ Penn, another incarnation of Instant Theatre, a 24-hour collaborative dramatic experience. Scores of local artists will be randomly grouped to write, direct and perform – off-book and in front of an audience! – 12 short 5-7minute original plays. Anyone can sign up. You can participate as a writer, director or actor. This is a great opportunity to stretch your theatrical muscles; the concept has been a great success in New York . The event takes place November 19th and 20th. For info or to sign on, contact producer/director Raab Rashi . The last time Instant Theatre came to town, June 2005, it attracted a bevy of talent, including playwright/poet reg e. gaines , author of the acclaimed, Tony-nominated Bring in Da Noise/Bring in Da Funk. Space is limited to 12 writers, 12 directors and 40 actors, so get on board now. The final performances will be held on Sunday, November 20 at 6 and 8 pm. Tickets are only $5. InstantTheatre@hotmail.com .
NOW, FOR WHAT’S ‘NOT TO BE MISSED!‘ (i.e., Critic’s Picks );
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
Adam Baum and the Jew Movie – provocative title, little-known story. Thinly-veiled tale of Sam Goldwyn (and other early Hollywood moguls – all Eastern European Jewish immigrants who were so eager to assimilate they turned against everything they knew and loved). Wonderfully nuanced performance by Ralph Elias.
At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through November 9.
A Piece of My Heart – the untold story of the women who volunteered to serve in Vietnam . Earnest text and performances, with some really gut-wrenching moments.
Mo’olelo at the Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center across from Balboa Park , through November 6.
The Miser – magnificent; theater magic. Théâtre de la Jeune Lune mines the darkness beneath the farcically comic surface. The physical production is gorgeous – as are the set, makeup, movement, direction, acting. It’s all good. Very good.
At La Jolla Playhouse, through November 13.
“The Winslow Boy” – beautifully designed and acted. A wonderful ensemble piece, with striking philosophical resonance.
At Lamb’s Players Theatre, through November 20.
“Curse of the Starving Class” – grim and gritty nightmare of the American Dream. Sam Shepard at his bleakest, with flashes of wily humor. Wonderfully performed, a highly felicitous collaboration all around.
Co-produced by New Village Arts and Cygnet Theatre; at Cygnet, through November 6.
“ Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life” – like visiting with (theater) royalty. At 72, Chita still has the style, grace and ‘attitude’ she was, apparently, born with. In her singing/dancing narrative, she’s warm and lovable, gracious and irresistible. See her before she heads back to Broadway.
At the Old Globe, SECOND EXTENSION, through November 6.
“Too Old for the Chorus, But Not Too Old To Be a Star” – if you haven’t had your fill of menopausal musicals, this is great for a date (the guys remind us it’s called MENopause ). Excellent performances, some cute/clever bits and songs.
At The Theatre in Old Town , through January 1.
Well, we’re officially into the Holiday Season – so think about giving the gift of theater!
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.