If it sounds challenging to do a two-performer version of Frankenstein, it proves just that in the current production at the Classic Stage Company, being performed in rotating repertory with a new adaptation of Dracula. As adapted by Tristan Bernays from the novel by Mary Shelley, the first half-hour of the 80-minute show is more like performance art than a play, as very few words are spoken. During the first part of the play, there are more grunts and groans than there is anything resembling a script.
There are, however, songs throughout the performance, performed by Rob Morrison–who also wrote the music–at times on a banjo, at others on a guitar and even on what appears to be a zither. And although a program sheet claims that Stephanie Berry is both the “The Creature” and Victor Frankenstein, Morrison also appears to play Victor, saying early on that, “It was already in the morning [when] the miserable monster I had created….” Later, he becomes Herr Frankenstein’s four-year-old son, described as a “little cherub.”
But then, as directed by Timothy Douglas, his two players don’t receive any help in focusing a confused story and equally confused staging. They spend more time circling each other and lumbering or stumbling around than they do conveying just what the playwright intended. Under the dubious circumstances, an 80-minute play can ultimately feel much longer.
One also wishes that Douglas slowed his actors down a bit, especially when they’re delivering lines near the end, such as, “Into the vast mountains I ran, my boiling blood thawing the ice before me, following his footprints all the way, hearing his hideous cries…” The words, when they finally arrive, can seem far too poetic for the way the story is previously told.
Berry does have a number of fierce moments, and she’s particularly good at contorting her hands and her body when embodying the monster. If Morrison’s music is appropriately eerie in the beginning, it becomes more frivolous and gay as the event proceeds.
It’s all played out on John Doyle’s simple scenic design, featuring one large, central table that’s moved around a lot, two chairs, a stool, a lamp, and an elegant mirror. Simple too is Toni-Leslie James’s costume design, which puts Morrison in torn jeans, a dark blue jacket and gray cap. Berry is clad in a white tunic top, black pants and a black cap, and occasionally dons a large black coat. Perhaps the most effective design element is Adam Honoré’s lighting, which flickers from bright to dark at a moment’s notice. Leon Rothenberg’s sound features warbling birds, at various times as enhanced by Morrison’s whistling.
Frankenstein (performed in repertory with Dracula through March 8, 2020)
CSC Theatre, 136 East 13th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-677-4210 or visit http://www.classicstage.org
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission