During a wet summer in Switzerland, on their continental travels, Lord Byron pronounced to the physician William Polidori and artists Percy and Mary Shelley (in 1816, she was in her late teens, yet had lost two children), “We will each write a ghost story.” Two years later, one of the works, published anonymously, would bring together Romanticism and Science, proto-modernist alienation and the boundlessness of human potential. Frankenstein was a novel that, according to Stephen King, “more people have come to . . . with high expectations that are dashed than perhaps to any other book in the English language” (King is a fan of the work, nevertheless). Mary hadn’t really written a page-turner or a frightening story of psychological suspense; neither had she diagrammed the human soul. Instead, what emerged was closer to what she was actually doing at the time—her book is a travelogue with an interesting proposition and random violence, cutting from Italy to Switzerland, Germany to Holland, and England to Scotland (which she knew growing up)—Oh, and, of course, the North Pole. You might wonder what Ibsen, of snowfields and trolls, would have done with Frankenstein—and Neal Bell’s adaptation does give us a solid, realistic interpretation–but the ideal dramatist for the material is probably a savvy miniseries writer with an eye for exotic locations, like a Sidney Sheldon.
Or someone who will walk into the theatre and blow it apart.
Bell has done a strong, workmanlike job of collapsing all the scenery to the arctic and the Frankenstein family home. By making the work stagebound, rather than cinematic, however, the play doesn’t become Mary's whirlwind tour—instead you’ll be reminded of references, pulp and scholarly, as well as Rorschach blots. The adapter offers a gay theme and a prefeminist view of women. As the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley may be cringing somewhere as we hear Frankenstein’s adopted sister compare her body to a swamp—but I suppose Bell would explain that he was portraying the thinking of the time. He does hold the stage with his dialogue, but if you’re going to change a few ingredients in Shelley, if you’re going to straightjacket her in the well-made play, her own experiment, her ‘I-don’t-really-know-how-this-is-all-going-to-work skittishness,” and her own trashiness suffer, and you wind up with reverence, which can be a bit airless (you’ll like the triple-time space music that envelops the endeavor, though).
Monster, despite the styling toward realism, leaves the subtext undeveloped and the pacing off—I started thinking about the complexities of staging the literary and how different it is than forging emotional, freer theatrical space. You will probably agree that director Jim Perosa has made a good choice for his younger actors to work with, in any case (the company is PTP/NYC, supported by Middlebury College), despite the plot’s dramatic traffic jam (where the monster and two potential lovers converge on Frankenstein—speed it up a little faster and you’d have farce or Mel Brooks). Joe Varca, as Victor, John Zdrojeski, as the creature, Britian Seibert, as Elizabeth (the adopted sister), Christo Grabowski, as Clerval (Frankenstein’s friend), and Noah Berman as Will (Frankenstein’s brother) are very talented, if necessarily untempered. Frankenstein is about youth and freedom, about the time in life when anything is possible . . .
I went to the Web at this point and read that 12 had been shot dead at a midnight Batman screening in Colorado. A 24-year-old neuroscience major, dressed in riot gear, reminiscent of the costuming in the movie, is charged. Having thrown tear gas in the air, he started shooting. This is the monster Shelley intended for her circle—“which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature.” Unfortunately, it is not fiction—
The other side of the coin to Shelley telling us about adventure, Romantic potential, and vine leaves in
the hair (to go back to Ibsen)—is the inhuman character she could barely imagine, the one she didn’t know, or the one no one in the theatre knew. That is why Frankenstein is important—and why it is worth continuing to consider. Our future was intuited.
© 2012 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Photo credit: Stan Barouh. All rights reserved.
‘MONSTER’ BY NEAL BELL
Through July 29
Atlantic Stage 2
330 West 16th Street
New York, New York
For more info visit: http://PTPNYC.org
Press: David Gibbs/DARR
The cast includes Ken Cheeseman (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure For Measure with NY Shakespeare Festival, Amphitryon and Scapin with Classic Stage Company), Christo Grabowski (Spatter Pattern with PTP), Paula Langton (A Question of Mercy with PTP), Joe Varca (LoveSick at 59E59), Noah Berman, Britian Seibert and John Zdrojeski.
The creative team includes Hallie Zieselman (Set Design), Mark Evancho (Lighting Design), Aubrey Dube (Sound Design) and Adrienne Carlile with Christine Han (Costume Design).
The rep season will also include PTP/NYC’s ‘After Dark 2012: the playground for young artists’, off-hours theatre in multiple shapes and sizes. After Dark performances are free and take place at 10:30pm on Wednesday, July 18, Tuesday, July 24, and Thursday, July 26. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation.
PTP/NYC continues to redefine political theatre for the 21st century with an annual month long repertory season. The company’s mandate is the presentation of highly theatrical and thought-provoking work of contemporary social and cultural relevance. In its 25 seasons the voices of PTP’s writers have addressed art, pornography, AIDS, homelessness, censorship, totalitarianism, apartheid and gender wars.
PTP was founded in 1987 by the artistic team of Cheryl Faraone, Jim Petosa and Richard Romagnoli. Since moving to New York in 2007, PTP/NYC has produced 13 main stage productions and 36 late evening readings, workshops and experimental theatre pieces in their After Dark series. PTP/NYC has been the recipient of 5 NY Innovative Theatre Award nominations and their production of Howard Barker’s Scenes From An Execution earned Jan Maxwell a 2009 Drama Desk nomination.
During its 20 seasons (1987-2006) in Washington DC and Maryland, the company received 7 Helen Hayes Award nominations and produced 75 main stage productions, along with numerous new play readings, late night experimental productions and a variety of ancillary events. PTP/NYC is affiliated with the Theatre Program of Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont.
CRITICAL ACCLAIM FOR PTP/NYC
“The Potomac Theatre Project has developed a specialty in reviving under-performed, politically charged plays.” ~ The Village Voice
“Lively acting and Richard Romagnoli’s seamless direction again make the company stand out amid the [summer] season’s fluff and fringiness as one to turn to for serious work.” ~ The New York Times on Howard Barker’s The Europeans
“I thrilled at a revival of Howard Barker’s furious Restoration anarch-omedy Victory: Choices in Reaction, starring the great Jan Maxwell.” ~ NY Magazine on Howard Barker’s Victory
“The superb actors fully exploit their jagged, lyrical lines. The unrelenting presence of poetic grief makes Crave a triumph.” ~ TimeOut NY on Sarah Kane’s Crave
“Compelling…Neal Bell and Potomac Theatre Project are a nice combination.” ~ NYTheatre.com on Neal Bell’s Spatter Pattern
“Thanks to Jim Petosa’s sharp direction…this thoughtful production successfully captures the hallucinatory world of guilt; the aftermath is staged to great effect.” ~ Huffington Post on Neal Bell’s Therese Raquin
“Thought-provoking entertainment…an imaginative tribute to the brilliant scientist [Alan Turing].” ~ Show Business on Snoo Wilson’s Lovesong of the Electric Bear
The theater is accessible from the A, C, E, L trains to 14 St./8 Ave. or the #1 train to 18 St.