Monday, August 29, 2011

Review - "Frankenstein With Mary Shelley" and "Gabriel"

By Byrne Harrison

As part of their "Summer of Creation," Redd Tale Theatre Company breathes life into a pair of one-act plays inspired by Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."

The first, Frankenstein With Mary Shelley, is an adaptation of Shelley's work by Virginia Bartholomew, who also performs the piece.  This outstanding one-person play has Bartholomew at turns playing Shelley, Victor Frankenstein and his Creation, as Shelley recounts how the story came to be and brings it to life for her audience.  Bartholomew is a versatile actor and seamlessly moves from character to character, bringing a remarkable depth to her performance.  Her tormented Creation is particularly moving and effective.

Ably directed by Redd Tale Artistic Director Will Le Vasseur, Frankenstein With Mary Shelley is a wonderfully atmospheric piece, dark and somewhat creepy.  Le Vasseur's set and Jason Richard's lighting for the show successfully recreates the feel of a dark drawing room where supernatural things are bound to occur.

Across the board an excellent play, Frankenstein With Mary Shelley will no doubt be brought back for future productions (and if that isn't already in the works, it should be).

The second play of the evening is Gabriel, Will Le Vasseur's take on the Frankenstein story.  In it Le Vasseur plays Henry, an exceedingly wealthy man with a scientific bent, who discovers an astounding secret in human DNA.  With the unwitting help of his colleagues Susan and Pierce (Cameran Hebb and James Stewart), he is able to leapfrog human evolution by 2 million years.  The result is Gabriel - not a monster, but like Shelley's original, something unique, out of place and lonely.  To add to the sense of otherworldliness, Gabriel is played by two actors; Michael Wetherbee, who performs Gabriel onstage and Michael Komala, who voices the telepathic Gabriel from offstage.  It takes some getting used to, but it is an effective portrayal.

Le Vasseur's Gabriel is intriguing and does a good job of bringing the Frankenstein story out of the age of electricity and reanimated corpses and into the modern era of molecular biology and space travel.  The exploration of the ethical implications of creating something so different and strange is fascinating and well thought out by Le Vasseur, not to mention his exploration of the bonding that occurs between creator and creation, between a lonely man and the lost soul that he has brought to life.

The acting in the piece is strong, with particular praise going to Wetherbee for his child-like Gabriel, and Hebb for her comic timing.  Michael Komala does an excellent job with a potentially difficult part (playing a disembodied voice is no doubt challenging).  Stewart and Le Vasseur acquit themselves well, as usual, with Le Vasseur doing particularly effective work with Henry's longing - whether it be for love or to create a legacy.

My only issues with Gabriel have to do with its length and the juxtaposition of this play and Frankenstein With Mary ShelleyFrankenstein With Mary Shelley draws much of its atmosphere from Gothic horror.  Gabriel is a much lighter piece, with dry humor and even some moments of farce (there is a wonderful bit of comedy between Hebb and Stewart after Hebb's Susan is accidentally put into sexual overdrive by Gabriel's telepathy).  This is a stark contrast to the creepy and intimate Frankenstein With Mary Shelley, and it is a bit jarring, even with the intermission between the two pieces.

But more to the point, Gabriel is a bit overstuffed.  Le Vasseur has a lot that he wants to explore in the play, and as a result some of the show, especially the love story between Henry and Gabriel, feels rushed.  This is not to say that Gabriel needs to be cut, rather that Gabriel deserves to be explored and nurtured into something larger.  I, for one, would like to see a full-length version of this play where Le Vasseur has time to fully explore his characters and themes.

With the loss of Nicu's Spoon Theatre, this will be the last full performance from Redd Tale this year (though I hold out hope that they will continue their one-off sci-fi movie festivals, radio shows, etc., until they find a new performance space), but they will be back with full productions in 2012.

Frankenstein With Mary Shelley
Adapted by Virginia Bartholomew
Directed and Edited by Will Le Vasseur
Featuring: Viriginia Bartholomew (Mary Shelley/Victor/Creation)

Written by Will Le Vasseur
Directed by Lynn Kenny
Featuring: Will Le Vasseur (Henry), Cameran Hebb (Susan), James Stewart (Pierce), Michael Komala (Gabriel's Voice) and Michael Wetherbee (Gabriel)

Set/Lighting/Website Design - Will Le Vasseur
Stage Manager - Brittany Ray
Assistant Stage Manager - Michael Komala
Poster Design - Graeme Offord
Ligting Design/Production Photos - Jason Richards

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