Quintessence Theatre dynamically brings to life Mary Shelley’s classic tale of Frankenstein and his monstrous creation in a fantastic, eerily staged production, framed by the shadowy, overarching contours of the historic art deco Sedgwick Theater.
A sense of foreboding and Goth oozes forth from the stygian set, filling the air as a sensational ensemble of actors raptly unfold the tragedy that follows Victor Frankenstein (Michael Zlabinger) from his aphotic folly; bringing to life a body built from kidnapped cadavers. Mortified at his creation, Frankenstein shuns his manufacture leaving the newly minted being to suffer the road to humanity without love, or guidance. Guided by hunger, self taught through books and observation, and longing for some human interaction, the creature reaches out only to be brashly and repeatedly rejected, resulting in horrific hurt, anger and ultimate revenge on his maker.
Shelley’s didactic, many-layered narrative is embraced in director Alex Burns’s adaptation, lovingly delivered and hauntingly effective as presented on a multi-tiered stage (Brian Sidney Bembridge) wrought in tenebrous tones, touched at times by tinges of blood red, and flanked by flailing floor to ceiling plastic curtains that crinkle slightly when moved. The sound mingles with the superbly sinister soundscape (Daniel Ison designed and composed the music), brilliantly devised spectral lighting schemes, replete with a scattering of scary shadows (Bembridge), and special effects (Curtis Coyote) adding to the overall sense of a man-made, mad science world, imbued with trepidation, terror and loss. Humor does occasionally cross these boundaries, and is all the funnier for the relief it brings.
Each outstanding, enormously adaptable ensemble member plays a number of roles, both major and minor. Lee Cortopassi provides a major bright spot in his role as Henry Clerval, Victor’s childhood friend as well as a somber note in his role as English explorer, Robert Walton. Leah Gabriel excellently embodies Victor’s lovely mother, who sadly passes away from scarlet fever, a Turkish woman, an Irish woman and other intriguing characters, mastering each accent! Kevin Bergen exhibits range playing Victor’s solid, stoic father, yet tender and vulnerable as old blind De Lacey. Hannah Wolff enlivens all of her characters, especially Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s betrothed, with tremendous presence. Brendan Dahl and Coralie Lyford contribute talent, youth and spirit as the younger Frankenstein brothers. Michael Zlabinger rocks his role as Victor Frankenstein with tremendous energy, verve and know-how, exuding A-Z emotional candor. Jake Blouch is absolutely electrifying in his portrayal of “The Monster”; ubiquitously reaching into that place no one likes to go…
Fight choreography (J. Alex Cordaro) and beautifully sequenced movement performed by the ensemble enhances the production, adding depth and an exquisitely ethereal feel to many of the scenes. Hinting at the period of the play, costumes (Jane Casanova) blend well with the set’s blue, black, and gray hues, augment action, are nicely spiced with signifying reds and hint at the period.
Quintessence breaths its special élan into the story of man’s machinations gone horrifically awry, demonstrating a timely message in a fascinating performance of this infamous fable. Happy 200th Birthday to Frankenstein!
[The Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Avenue] September 26-October 21, 2018; quintessencetheatre.org.
Note: The show contains continuous fog.
3 hours and 20 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions.