By Manual Cinema; Concept by Drew Dir; Adapted from the novel by Mary Shelley
Part of the 2019 Under the Radar Festival
Off Off Broadway, Multimedia performance
Ran through 1.12.19
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 1.12.19
The performers of Frankenstein. Photo by Maren Celest.
BOTTOM LINE: A haunting, theatrical, original retelling of Mary Shelley’s story (and backstory).
At first blush it may seem off to include a company with “cinema” in its name at a theatrical festival. Yes, there are lots of cameras and screens involved. But Manual Cinema has something captivatingly theatrical to their work—even sans dialogue, traditional actors beyond image and shadow, or songs any grander than underscoring. Instead, we watch a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein recreated through simple but astounding camera tricks. One could imagine the resulting video feed to be equally entertaining on another level altogether.
The plot is framed by a battle between Mary Shelley, husband Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron. They're having a contest over who can write the scariest story—and of course we root for Mary. The scariest thing to Mary? Losing her infant child. The seeds of this tale of bringing death back to life are formed. The emotional stitching of this story becomes all the more clear—and more frightening than I remember it being.
Mirroring how Shelley’s text offers different narrators for each part, Manual Cinema borrows from varying cinematic styles and tones for each act—silent film, animation, and the occasional color used like the reveal in The Wizard of Oz. What Manual Cinema achieves with tens of overhead projectors, and what must be hundreds of shadow puppets, is brilliant. Perhaps some might find this more of a gimmick—cool for a bit and then tiring in a performance that lasts for over 90 minutes. But the work of this Chicago-based is nevertheless thrilling.
(Frankenstein plays at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, January 3-12, 2019 as part of the Under the Radar Festival. The running time is 97 minutes. Performances are 1/3 at 9:30, 1/5 at 2:30 and 6:30, 1/6 at 6, 1/7 at 9:30, 1/10 at 7, 1/11 at 7, and 1/12 at 2. Tickets are $30. For tickets and more information visit publictheater.org.)
Frankenstein is by Manual Cinema. Concept is by Drew Dir. Devised by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia VanArsdale Miller. Original music composed by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman. Puppet Design by Drew Dir and Lizi Breit. Video and Set Design by Davonte Johnson. Costume Design by Mieka van der Ploeg. Lighting Design by Claire Chrzan. Sound Design by Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter. Stage Manager is Shelby Glasgow.
The Puppeteers are Sarah Fornace, Julia VanArsdale Miller, Leah Casey, Sara Sawicki, Myra Su, and Lizi Breit. The Musicians are Zachary Good, Deidre Huckabay, Lia Kohl, and Peter Ferry.