The opening twenty minutes of Nick Dear’s play, Frankenstein, which opened at A Noise Within on Saturday, is a fascinating, wordless ride, watching a man-like creature come to life and then figure out how to move, crawl, walk and begin to feel. It’s an audacious beginning that immediately straps you in for a taut, compelling human story that will leave you breathless.
The play takes the portion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that gives a glimpse of what the creature’s life alone has been like and expands upon it, taking us on a journey from his “birth” to becoming not just sentient, but a fully realized, educated man. It’s a brilliant device that takes the audience from repulsion to pity, laughter and ultimately empathy.
Michael Manuel, seen at ANW as Iago in last season’s stellar production of Othello, is astonishing as the Creature. I found myself literally sickened by his appearance and monstrous demeanor in the opening scenes. But then, bit by bit, Manuel literally transforms and transcends his outward appearance to invoke not pity, but rather recognition and compassion. He is at turns funny, playful, charming, graceful and then commanding and frightening. It is a stunning performance.
Kasey Mahaffy captures the depraved madness of Victor Frankenstein and creates a connection with Manuel that is captivating. A potent scene comes when the two finally meet again, face to face, the creator simultaneously disgusted and thrilled by his creation.
Erica Soto is a fierce and poignant Elizabeth, longing to understand her elusive husband to be. Making the most of their pivotal roles are the magnetic Harrison White as the blind man, De Lacey, who befriends and educates the Creature, and the charismatic Thomas Hobson as De Lacey’s son. I hope to see more of both at ANW.
Frankenstein sizzles with fantastic imagery throughout with lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg, a spare, innovative set design by Francois-Pierre Couture and exquisite Rhonda Kohl choreography beautifully executed by Manuel and his would-be bride, Erica Soto, in a dual role.
Frankenstein runs through September 8, 2019 at A Noise Within in Pasadena.
Single ticket prices for Frankenstein start at $25 and are available at anoisewithin.org, by phone at 626-356-3121, and at the box office located at 3352 East Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, Calif. Frankenstein features scenes of violence and is recommended for audiences ages 10 years and older.