Doctor Frankenstein’s Magical Creature
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
March 18, 2011
Where do we begin discussion of the Rabbit Hole Ensemble’s production of Doctor Frankenstein’s Magical Creature? With Mary Shelley’s iconic, archetypal novel, or the tragic trifecta of science, madness, and human suffering? In any case, the company has devoted an entire year to the cadaverous subject matter. Rabbit Hole presented the story from the Doctor’s point of view in the first half of the season and they're following that up with this piece, told from the creature’s point of view.
First, I must provide full disclosure here: I did not see the first piece. It is a clear error. Director Edward Elefterion and author Stanton Wood always create excellent work. As such, it was a bit touch-and-go in the beginning for those of us who hadn’t seen the first piece to establish who the characters were. There is a dramatic and obvious change in sex for both the lead characters. Doctor Victor Frankenstein is now Victoria, and the creature is also female, identified here as “Child.” To further complicate matters the Child is actually played by two actors—one who narrates the creature and one who acts out her sad existence. As such we are privy to the creature’s past as recounted by the narrator (the memorable and always riveting Emily Hartford), and her present, played out tragically before us by Jocelyn O’Neil, who in real life is just lovely and most assuredly can claim all her appendages as her own.
The creature, while essentially the sum of human parts, is still a human being, complete with feelings, a heart, and needs. Victoria dismisses the Child’s—her child’s—desire for love, affection, and at the very least acceptance (the Child calls it tolerance), as need. This is true of childhood in that it is a condition afflicted with need. Yet it is also desirous of love and belonging, the product of which is family. These are the themes that run with such strong current through this brief glimpse of the Child’s life and which make her, a creature—THE creature for all time—finally commit very inhuman acts against her creator.
Possibly it is the very definition of humanity for human to defy creator. I am human because I am capable of being inhuman; I am alive because I can kill, and the Child is because her mother made her. Yet the word “mother” is scarcely uttered or even imagined in the Child’s version of the events where her mother very un-stereotypically rejects her almost from the moment of her birth. The rest of the tale is the Child’s attempts to find a place where she is accepted, first among strangers and then finally among her kin, all of whom object to her, some of whom try to kill her, some of whom are killed by her. Despite the Child’s acts we can’t help but be filled with terrible sadness and longing.
The real horror perhaps is the fact that Victoria shows not one moment of maternal instinct for this thing she has single-handedly created. We’ve seen in real life those of the feminine persuasion feel sorry for a drowning rat, yet Victoria feels nothing but hatred, with a dash of guilt, for her progeny. Never mind why she has no biological children of her own; never mind why she decided it was a good idea—perhaps in the name of science?—to go about bringing the dead back to life; and never mind that in the early 1800s there was absolutely no room whatsoever for a woman of any kind to engage in any activity that required the removal of her hoop skirt, let alone the art and science of creating a human being.
It is always a pleasure to be in the company of Hartford and Arthur Aulisi (who plays Zachary, Victoria's fiancé). Hartford would bring to life (chortle) a reading of the yellow pages, while Aulisi strikes the perfect balance of commitment and humor. This is a trait shared by all in this production. It’s extremely rare to come across a group of people who are able to be so true to their characters and objectives while at the same time striving not to be taken too seriously. The entire cast of Doctor Frankenstein’s Magical Creature, down to Nikki Dillon and Rachel Pearl, who here serve as Kurogo, are completely invested in their characters, the plot and the mood of the piece, yet they are also able to have a bit of fun with it, especially Aulisi. Not to be surpassed is Elyse Knight, whose responsibility it is to make us at the very least not completely despise Doctor Victoria.
The costumes by Pei-Chi Su are well thought out, especially in light of a woman carrying out what was ostensibly man’s work, and thus reflected in the Child based on her mother. The makeup (no one claims this) is magnificent—just the right amount, especially when illuminated by the freely held lights of the Kurogo, who highlight, glorify, and expose with the simple change of an angle. Dillon and Pearl are subtle and effective, providing enchantingly creepy sounds such as the wind in addition to their illumination duties. The lighting, sounds, and set are simple (that’s far too unfair a word), precise and, frankly perfect. Once again Elefterion, known for his minimalist style—which relies on an essential confidence in his actors—hits the mark every time. His use of Kabuki styling includes soft, enchanting chimes and bells as well as screams and the pitch-perfect wails of Victoria and the creature. Truly we were filled with horror, then sadness, then again the horror born of sadness without a word spoken. Such sadness, universally understood, man or creature or in this case both, cannot be bound by words.