Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Frankenstein Upstairs" - The monster is in the eye of the beholder

By Byrne Harrison

Mac Rogers' latest production, Frankenstein Upstairs, is a retelling of Mary Shelley's classic horror tale.  Rogers, whose adaptation of Karel Capek's R.U.R. (called Universal Robots) ranks as one of my favorite plays, once again shows both his skill at creating exceptionally real characters and his expert storytelling.  Frankenstein Upstairs is an outstanding update Shelley's story, one that is creepy and suspenseful, but rooted in universal issues (I highly recommend reading the playwright's note in the program).

Set in the same universe as Shelley's novel (i.e., the name Frankenstein carries no cultural baggage in this play), Frankenstein Upstairs tells the story of Sophie (Autumn Dornfeld) and Marisol (Diana Oh), business and life partners living in a Brooklyn loft while running a social media business.

Like most couples, they have their share of ups and downs.  They want to grow their business.  Their main client (a blind, gay romance writer played by Rob Maitner) is ready to shed his female pseudonym and "come out," as it were.  They have completely different working styles, and that makes their work lives and their relationship rather rocky.

And there is the problem of the scientist upstairs who keeps knocking out the power in the building with her experiments.

Enter the socially awkward, formal and mysterious Dr. Frankenstein (Kristen Vaughan).  Victoria Frankenstein.  Vic to her friends.  And she wants to be friends with Sophie and Marisol.

Part of the fun in Frankenstein Upstairs is watching Rogers' and director Jordana Williams' skill in teasing out the story.  You can guess some things.  There will be a creature brought from death to life.  There will be mayhem and death.  But these things are so enmeshed in the surprises that Rogers' has created that it is hard to go into too many details about the story without spoiling the joy of watching it unfold.

Suffice it to say, Vic is not what she seems, and watching her agenda unfold and worm its way into the lives of Marisol, Sophie and their client Taylor is a disturbing pleasure to watch.

The night that I saw Frankenstein Upstairs, there were electrical issues, so there were no lights other than house lights, and the sound system was reduced to just computer speakers.  This would have killed a Broadway or Off-Broadway show, but to their credit, the folks at Gideon Productions recognized that the show's strength is not the special effects, but the writing and the acting.  Yes, the audience missed Jennifer Linn Wilcox's lighting and Jeanne E. Travis' sound, and I'm sure these would have added some appropriately creepy shading to the atmosphere created by action of the play, but so be it.  If anything, it brought the cast's skills to the forefront.  And it is an incredibly talented cast.

Dornfeld, Oh and Maitner create complex and engaging characters and are pleasure to watch.  They are equally deft with the humor in Rogers' play, the growing sense of horror, and the physicality.  But it is Vaughan who steals the show as Dr. Frankenstein.  Vic is odd and likable, and Vaughan is a virtuoso at dropping little hints about her true nature.  When she shows her true colors, it's like a slap to the face.  This character, who seems to be so sympathetic at the beginning of the play, has the makings of a monster in her.  And watching that come to the forefront is amazing.

In Frankenstein Upstairs, Rogers has once again created an excellent piece of theatre, and has added a strong new work to the Frankenstein canon.  He has a unique theatrical voice, and I highly recommend seeing this and his other works.

Frankenstein Upstairs
By Mac Rogers
Directed by Jordana Williams
Featuring: Autumn Dornfeld, Rob Maitner, Diana Oh, and Kristen Vaughan

Producer: Sean Williams
Stage Manager: Nikki Castle
Set Design: Sandy Yaklin
Lighting Design: Jennifer Linn Wilcox
Sound Design: Jeanne E. Travis
Costume Design: Amanda Jenks
Special Effects Design: Stephanie Cox-Williams
Ass't Director/Assoc. Producer: Mikell Kober
Fight Choreography: Adam Swiderski
Technical Director: Ashanti Ziths
Photography: Deborah Alexander Photography
Publicity Design: Pete Boisvert
Medical Consultant: Steve Alexander, M.D.
Scenic Painter: Kate Rance
Scenic/Props Assistant: Monserrat Mendez
Lighting Assistant: Lauren Bremen

No comments: