Contributing Critic - New York
Worried about the fate of live performance or cinema in this digital age? Run to see Frankenstein at The Public’s Under the Radar Festival this month and you’ll be shouting, “It lives!!”
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein turns the anatomy of a play inside out in a unique amalgamation of shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, sound, and live music. Interwoven stories of Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein, and his Monster unfold before one’s eyes in a 97-minute spectacle of nonverbal, unadulterated marvel in which actors and technicians are one entity, seamlessly transitioning between a multitude of characters and multimedia platforms to tell the story. Three playing areas exist comprised of live feed cameras, lights, projecting screens, and puppets that allow Manual Cinema to manually create a sort of live movie projected on one giant screen above center stage.
While the “film” they are creating is equal parts joyous and horrifying (given the gothic storyline), the real joy comes from watching these masters of the craft create a remarkable feat of the human imagination before your very eyes, stripping the safety and comfort of a polished and perfected fourth wall audience break in lieu of full transparency of the process of their creation. Thankfully, what they have created is no monster at all, but pure genius.
This transparent design of Frankenstein shows the inner mechanisms of theatrical performance, a magnifying glass to the team effort of putting on this mammoth show. The juxtaposition of such a team effort to tell the story of the loner Mary Shelley (and her equally recluse creation Dr. Frankenstein and his in turn The Creature) invites quiet and downright eerie reflection on the human condition by the end of the evening. While the audience is of course invested in the new interweaving plot of these characters, the resounding awe at curtain call springs from the joy of the act of creation itself, extending from the theme in the play to the literal manifestation of Manual Cinema creating before our eyes.
It is one thing to read about man (and woman) kind’s creativity but quite another to watch it unfold seamlessly before your eyes in a pageant of lightning-fast Steampunk costume changes, puppetry slight-of-hand, and eerie live sound effects and music. Turn off Netflix and catch this experience while you can.
“Frankenstein” has a concept by Drew Dir, devised by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia VanArsdale Miller. Puppeteers include Sarah Fornace (Victor Frankenstein, Mary Shelley), Julia VanArsdale Miller (The Creature, Elizabeth Frankenstein), Leah Casey (Caroline Frankenstein, Percy Shelley, Vocals), Sara Sawicki (Alphonse Frankenstein, Lord Byron), Myra Su (Ensemble), Lizi Breit (Ensemble Understudy). Musicians include Zachary Good (clarinets and aux percussion), Deidre Huckabay (flutes, aux percussion, piano), Lia Kohl (cello, aux percussion, vocals), and Peter Ferry (percussion).
The design team includes Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman (original music), Drew Dir (storyboarder), Drew Dir and Lizi Breit (puppet design), Davonte Johnson (video and set design), Mieka van der Ploeg (costume design), Claire Chrzan (lighting design), Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter (sound design), Mike Usrey (sound engineer), Shelby Glasgow (stage manager), and Shelby Glasgow and Kyle Vegter (video mixing and live sound effects).
“Frankenstein” runs as part of the Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street (at Astor Place) New York, NY 10003) January 3, 5-7, 10-12, 2019. Tickets for “Frankenstein” can be purchased online at https://publictheater.org, by calling the box office at 212.967.7555, or in-person daily at 2pm or an hour prior to matinee performances. For more information, please visit https://manualcinema.com. Running time is 97 minutes, no intermission.