Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein presented by Ensemble for the Romantic Century at the Pershing Square Signature Center attempts to tell the well-known legend combining the original text and the tale of Mary Shelley’s circle of friends. It is an uneasy mix.
The big draw of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the red hot ballet star/musical theater star Robert Fairchild who choreographed this production and appears as an extremely handsome Monster. (The original novel describes him as beautiful.)
Written by Eve Wolf (ERC’s executive artistic director), the plot swings quickly between watching the familiar episodes of the Monster’s violence and inner torment and the tragic life of Mary Shelley who lost three children and had an unhappy marriage, particularly after the death of close friend, the poet Lord Byron and then of her husband Shelley who apparently drowned himself.
Vanessa James, the set and costume designer, provides extravagant support with a complicated set and period costumes. Only the Monster is simply dressed in single color, tight-fitting dancewear.
A large portal in the center of the stage supports a screen upon which the words of Mary’s book and the lyrics of art songs are displayed along with images of brooding landscapes. Musical instruments are placed strategically as well as period furniture and a few tortured looking trees, setting a dark mood even before the show begins.
A loud organ chord blast begins the show with melodramatic excess. Lightning and electrical waves highlight the Monster who totters forward in an agonized walk. He falls to the ground and vibrates as the Shelley storyline takes over.
Mary is working on her book, showing it to Percy whose criticisms irk her. As they read, we witness the monster wandering about, meeting the old hermit, De Lacey (a brilliant Rocco Sisto who also plays Mary’s dour father). The monster inadvertently kills a young child (Shiv Ajay Pancholi-Parekh, giving a superb performance) and begins to wander a world in which he can never fit.
Back and forth it goes between Mary’s story and the Monster’s wanderings. Musical interludes regularly interrupt the action.
Perhaps the idea of combining chamber music, lied, choreography and text looked good on paper, but this production, directed erratically by Donald T. Sanders, wobbles along with some sections registering, others not. Some of Sanders’ choices are odd. Why Mary and Percy Shelley do not have English accents is notable making these characters less real.
Mia Vallet who plays Mary and also a character, Agatha, from the book, speaks in cadences that are far too modern. Her sudden outburst of emotion at the loss of her third child registers as over acting. Paul Wesley (Percy, the scientist Victor Frankenstein and Felix) is equally bland and unconvincing.
Fairchild speaks well and communicates much with his physique, but his choreography is repetitive and uninventive. Here was a chance to breathe new life into a too familiar character. All Fairchild could come up with is lurching movements and awkward falls to the floor. He takes the obvious path to create his character with movement when he had a chance to illuminate the Monster’s inner emotions.
The musicians are fine, but even when their music accompanied action rather than stopping it, the musical interludes come across as self-conscious. The music is performed by mezzo-soprano Krysty Swann, pianist Steven Lin, organ/harpsichordist Parker Ramsay and oboist Kemp Jernigan and include Liszt, Bach, Liszt and songs by Schubert—mood setting but overdone.
Spectacular by Off-Broadway standards, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein never gels into an arresting theater piece.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (through January 7, 2018)
Ensemble for the Romantic Century
The Irene Diamond Stage, The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.TicketCentral.com
Running time: one hour and 35 minutes including one intermission