The Hypocrites’ production of “Frankenstein,” which opened Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Stage under the direction of Sean Graney, is a mash-up of not only Graney’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel with the 1931 film, but also a clash of time periods, causing one to not be sure of when it takes place. The play is rife with anachronisms: Elizabeth (Stacy Stoltz) wears Victorian clothing, while her betrothed, Victor Frankenstein (John Byrnes), wears jeans and a T-shirt. A large antiqued cellphone is used at one point, while another character carries an Edison Talking Doll, which sings “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in German. The world in which “Frankenstein” occurs is that of Graney’s own creation; a world where human flesh is more palatable than Cheese Whiz. And this world is one that the audience is thrust into due to the fact that it is staged promenade style, placing the audience onstage with the actors.
But this world, albeit terrifying, has flaws, which causes this production to not be as effective as it could be. While the film is projected onto a screen that hangs above a wall, I found myself paying attention to the film during the brief periods where the audio is on, which is not a very long time. The video is never really incorporated into this production to make it truly work as a part of the play. What is occurring onstage is too engrossing to allow for the audience to look at what is occurring on the screen.
This production also features two original songs by Graney and Kevin O’Donnell. The first song is sung by Frankenstein’s bride, a resurrected prostitute (Jessie Fisher) who must be plugged in in order to be alive. While this song is certainly interesting to the Daemon (Matt Kahler), it slows down the show as it seems to be placed there for no real reason. Yes, the song conveys that she is confused and realizes what she is, but the audience could have gathered that from what occurs earlier. The second song, which is a lament that the Daemon sings, is much more fitting because of the situation in which the song is being sung.
However, this production features good acting from the four actors, notably Stoltz as the frequently jilted bride and Kahler as the grotesque creature. Kahler’s portrayal gives us a creature that is brutal and vicious, but at the core, struggling to be accepted by the world in which he was created. Stoltz, on the other hand, gives us a woman who cares deeply for the man she is engaged to, but is also not revolted by the sight of the Daemon, which could have been the result of her state of mind when she meets the creature.
The use of the MCA stage is also very interesting as benches have been placed onstage for the audience to sit or stand on. There is also a see-saw on stage, along with a bed that is on a bit of an angle, making the awakening of the Daemon a bit more dramatic as the audience can see his body moving a bit better than if the bed was not raised at all. Hanging from the ceiling are bloodied and disembodied dolls and covering the back wall of the theater are pages from Shelly’s text.
While this production is engaging and fascinating, it is only terrifying at some points. While early on in the show I was a bit terrified to be in a darkened theater due to what had already occurred in the show, even by the end when horrific things occur to Victor, the gruesomeness and terror of the show had worn off. While “Frankenstein” is well-acted and interesting, it never gets underneath the skin.
“Frankenstein” continues through November 1. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sunday performances, 3 p.m. on Sunday, and 10 p.m. on the 30 and 31. Tickets are $20-25 and can be purchased by calling 312-397-4010 or visiting mcachicago.org