Penny Dreadful Season 2
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 19, 2008
Penny Dreadful is a monthly serial created by Bryan Enk and Matt Gray. I confess that I am coming to it rather late: I missed the entire first year of episodes, arriving to take it in for the first time at Episode 7, which is entitled "The Peril of Penny, a Damsel Lost in Time!"
(The good news is that all of the prior episodes are available as downloadable videos on the Penny Dreadful website. I'd advise you—if you decide to jump into the serial now—to at least skim them so you'll have some needed context for what you see on stage. There is also a very brief synopsis in the program to help you out. I was surprised that there wasn't a pre-show screening of at least a video montage of highlights—a "last time on Penny Dreadful" sort of thing: I think that would be fun and useful.)
The play tells two stories, one of which takes place in 1910 and involves a Pinkerton detective named Leslie Caldwell, an early archetype of an organized crime gang, and an anarchist named Abigail Pierce. The other happens in the future, and revolves around Penny, a magician's assistant who has somehow time-traveled here from 1907 during, apparently, a magic trick gone awry.
There's some supernatural stuff going on here, and enough intrigue and mystery for a dozen pulpy serials. The relationship between the two plot lines was hard for me to discern. The Penny tale is mostly terrifically brooding and moody; a scene in which Penny consults with a 21st century magician (played brilliantly by Robert Pinnock) was definitely the highlight of this episode. Elsewhere, the tone strays from straightforward to tongue-in-cheek silly, especially in a final scene involving several (parodic) bloody murders.
The production design is expert, and the pacing, under the direction of Mateo Moreno, is quick and involving. Penny Dreadful is an ambitious and entertaining undertaking, and has already roped in many fans and will likely keep them (along with new ones) coming back to the Brick to see what interesting twists and turns Enk and Gray have in store for their characters.