Review: “Doctor Frankenstein” at West End Theatre
By Anthony J. Piccione, lead reviewer, OuterStage
It’s widely known that the story told in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which has stood the test of time like few other stories has, is nothing more than a horror fantasy that is merely the stuff of nightmare. However, what if it wasn’t? What if Dr. Frankenstein was, in fact, a real person who merely served as the inspiration of Shelly’s classic novel, and whose true life was portrayed inaccurately and ultimately forgotten? That’s the question that is asked in George Allison’s new play entitled, wait for it… Doctor Frankenstein.
Unfortunately, it’s a question that gets muddled and lost, over the course of its dull and excessively long plot. From the very beginning, it’s not entirely clear how the doctor – who narrates his story – is able to speak to the audience. (Are we traveling back in time? Is he a ghost?) By the time this two-hour show finally reaches its climax, the man who claims to be smeared as a murderer experimenting with the lives of others is left to be…a murderer who experiments with the lives of others, with only slightly different details that aren’t enough to make the audience feel an inch of sympathy for the doctor. Thus, its unclear the point of telling this fictionalized story of a real-life Victor Frankenstein, if not to explain why we should feel sympathy for him over his claims of an inaccurate portrayal. As it is, stories based around characters such as Frankenstein or Dracula are second only to Shakespeare, in terms of how overproduced they are in the theatre industry, and Mr. Allison’s script breaks very little new ground.
It’s a shame that Articulate Theatre Company chose this play to produce, when their series of protest-themed one-acts – which I attended earlier this year – showed how much talent and passion there is in this organization. Furthermore, as disappointing as the writing may have been, the performances in this cast – including that of Mr. Steve Shoup, who according to director Cat Parker, stepped in at the last minute approximately 32 hours and 10 minutes before showtime – all were at least decent, even if none of them were particularly outstanding.
However, the primary redeeming aspect of this show is its production value, which is quite extraordinary for an independent theatre production in a relatively intimate venue. Mr. Allison is clearly more gifted as a set designer, while the lighting design and projection design of Dennis Parichy and Eric Siegel both enhance the dark tone and gothic atmosphere of the play from the minute the audience enters the theater. Jim Buff’s costume design is also effective, in terms of capturing the period in history that the play takes place in.
If you’re a die-hard fan of Frankenstein – or of old-school horror, in general – perhaps this show will be appealing to you, as long as you overlook its poorly written script. However, as passionate as the people working on this show may have been, this served as just another reminder for this critic that you can have all the talent in the world working on a play, but if its not that good, there just isn’t much that can be done about it.
“Doctor Frankenstein” stars John Blaylock, Steve Shoup, Tammy McNeill, Loren Bidner, Brianna Kalisch, J. Dolan Byrnes & Chris Robertson.
“Doctor Frankenstein” is written by George Allison and directed by Cat Parker, featuring featuring managing director Brittney Venable, associate producer Tekla Gaughan, co-producer Judith Manocherian, stage manager Sabrina Morabito, set design by George Allison, lighting design by Dennis Parichy, costume design by Jim Buff, sound design by Morry Campbell & projection design by Eric Siegel.
“Doctor Frankenstein” – presented by Articulate Theatre Company – runs at West End Theatre at Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, located at 263 W 86th Street, New York, NY, from November 8th-23rd.