photo by Adam Smith Jr.
How many works have been based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) lists 39 pages in its Works based on Frankenstein category - novels, films, comics, video games. Mary Shelley accessed an archetype in our collective unconscious like few other writers.
Needless to say, not all of these adaptations are masterpieces. But stage adaptations of the novel promise, at least, to be rewarding; there’s a real dramatic conflict between Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature. And the musical is particularly right for this epic, operatic story.
Eric B. Sirota has written the book, music and lyrics to a musical based on the novel. It’s called, appropriately enough, Frankenstein, and it’s been playing at St. Luke’s Theatre, Off-Broadway. It’s really good, a lively and entertaining stage response to Ms. Shelley, produced by John Lant, Tamra Pica and Write Act Repertory.
Clint Hromsco has directed the show with a great, refined sense of fun. The show parodies the source material - it parodies itself - gently and intelligently. The scene in which the Creature comes to life is played to great effect. Lightning flashes and then Dr. Frankenstien laughs, just as we expect - just as we want - but we never feel like we’ve seen it before, and it’s never heavy-handed.
And there are serious dramatic issues going on in this play between the Doctor and the Creature. “Obey me! Obey me!” the Creature orders the Doctor, expressing some father issues.
From the moment he enters at the opening of the show, it’s clear that Jonathan Cobrda is going to give us a great performance as Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He’s called upon to stagger on to the stage and collapse. That’s pretty tricky for any actor, but Mr. Cobrda makes his entrance with surety, without a trace of falseness. He’s a gifted singer and actor. He sings with a really cool vibrato that he can turn off when he wants. He’s singing even when he’s speaking, and he never falters in this role until the end of the show when his voice gets a bit tired.
Danny Bristoll works very well as the Creature, solid in his acting and singing. He makes us empathize with this home-made monster. In fact, he’s rather too endearing and graceful. He could at least affect a limp or something. And he isn’t made up to be ugly enough to motivate Dr. Frankenstein's fleeing the room when he first sees his creation.
Writer, actor and director do great work dealing with the story’s big problem, a long speech the Creature has when he returns to meet the Doctor for the first time. It’s an unlikely narration (you’ll recall that the Creature has been living with the family of a blind man), but the team make it believable.
The rest of the cast does a good job, as well. Amy London is fine as Elizabeth, the Doctor’s bride whom the Creature does in. She has a lovely church choir voice, but it’s not commanding in her lower registers.
And the script is smart. “What if I create a race of demons?” Dr. Frankenstein asks, suggesting our concern with GMO’s. And “Why have you created me?” the Creature asks the Doctor, with theological overtones. “I wouldn’t suffer if I had no soul,” he cries.
Mr. Sirota does some weird stuff making the lyrics rhyme, using “I” for “me”. “All I ask of you is this - that you make her as I” the Creature says to Dr. Frankenstein when he asks for a wife. And he calls God “Creator if everyone but I”. Very strange. But then it’s a strange story.
The music is suitably varied, with some handy duets, if not particularly memorable. It relishes melodrama but it’s not cathected to it. However, the orchestra, which consists of only a piano, needs to be expanded.
And so Frankenstein continues to maintain residence on Monday evenings at St. Luke’s, one of New York’s Off-Broadway jewels, macabre and delightful.