Frankenstein and Gabriel
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 5, 2011
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was a revolutionary blend of science fiction and horror when it first arrived on the scene. It has become one of the most enduring monster stories in the history of literature and film. It has been adapted and re-imagined countless times throughout the years. Redd Tale Theatre Company gives us both in one compelling evening of theatre at the Spoon Theatre, with their double bill of Frankenstein and Gabriel.
The first of the one acts, Frankenstein, is the retelling of Mary Shelley's classic through the "character" of Mary Shelley, played by Virginia Bartholomew (who also did the adaptation of the piece). Shelley recounts both the story behind her inspiration in writing Frankenstein and dramatically acts out the story through her own words; taking on the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and his creature. Bartholomew commands the attention of the audience throughout with a stellar performance. Her physicality and voice deftly delineates between the characters of Shelley, Frankenstein, and the monster. Will Le Vasseur's superb lighting design almost acts as its own complimentary character. The dimming, brightening, and flashes almost feel like a fluid two-person dance between Bartholomew and the atmosphere.
While the show is a fairly straight "campfire story" retelling of Frankenstein, Bartholomew smartly focuses on the heart of the story: the intense need of the creature for belonging and Frankenstein's neglect and ignorance of what exactly he was creating. She cuts away most of the death, blood, and horror that have been the focus of most modern retellings and allows the true horror to come out of the creature's loneliness, and the anger and vengeful feelings that abandonment has created. It also subtly underlines Frankenstein's ethical dilemma: scientists often become preoccupied with whether they can do something, but never stop to think if they should—if their action will have consequences to their creation (which is a centerpiece of Gabriel, the second piece of the night). Bartholomew's retelling hits the right atmosphere and all the important moments of the myth and made me want to go home and read Shelley's original story again.
Gabriel, the second half of the double bill—written by Le Vasseur—is a modern day reimagining of the themes of Frankenstein, focusing more on the sci-fi aspects of the story. Henry, a brilliant British scientist, invites his two colleagues, Susan and Pierce, over for a huge revelation: he has created an advanced mutation of the human species. His creation, Gabriel, looks like the perfect specimen of the human male but has grown into an adult in just under 6 months, communicates telepathically, and utilizes over 50% of his brain (for reference, some scientists have implied that modern humans only use 10% of their brains). Gabriel also holds a more advanced connection with the "creators" of the human race—and is closer to their image than to ours.
While the three scientists mull over the scientific, ethical, and religious implications the creation of Gabriel will have on our society, it becomes clear that a connection has grown between the creator and his creation. Over the course of their time together they have fallen in love. Though, until this point, Henry has thought of Gabriel only in regard to his scientific importance, not his synthesized humanity (much like Frankenstein and his monster). But he realizes that his drive to create Gabriel may have run deeper than revolutionizing the species and may have had more to do with his need for companionship. As they try to sort through the implications of a man loving his creation and a man loving another man, Gabriel suggests "why deny such a connection when you have it?" But their love is short lived as Gabriel's contemporaries, our creators, have learned of his existence and have arrived to take him away, jeopardizing Henry's love and his years of work.
Gabriel is tightly directed and fantastically performed across the board. Will Le Vasseur's Henry is extremely intelligent, with an underlying feel of deep loneliness. You can see his dilemma every time he looks at Gabriel. Cameran Hebb and James Stewart (Susan and Pierce), as Henry's married colleagues, have the perfect kind of chemistry. They play hilariously off of each other, and come across as that couple that doesn't seem like they match together but they seem to fit so perfectly somehow. The highlight is Michael Wetherbee as Gabriel. As Gabriel can communicate only through telepathy, Wetherbee never speaks as Gabriel; his thoughts are transmitted by a disembodied voice. Wetherbee does an amazing job without saying anything. He communicates everything he's feeling through his expressions and body, never once seeming like he was just "mugging." He is at once supremely intelligent and childish, and his longing to belong and his need for Henry seeps out of every pore. Michael Komala, who voices Gabriel, also deserves a lot of credit for his calm, mechanical cadence and delivery, which is somehow simultaneously filled with the nuances of all of Gabriel's emotion. Sean Loftus also did a commendable job as the dialect coach as each actor consistently held their accents down (especially Stewart's New Zealand accent.)
Aside from a minor staging snafu—some of the opening scene was blocked with characters sitting on a couch with their back to the audience, leaving me longing to see their faces a bit more during some of the more revelatory moments—the biggest complaint that I have with Gabriel is that it is too short. It never feels rushed or undeveloped; I just wanted more of the play and characters. Le Vasseur does such a great job tying together the diverse themes, touching on sexual politics, science, and ethics and tempering them into a great sci-fi piece. The writing and the actors have come together so well to create such compelling characters, that it just seems a shame that we only get to be with them for about an hour. Redd Tale's Frankenstein and Gabriel make for a great night of theatre and complement each other well—and hopefully in the future, Redd Tale will perhaps expand Gabriel into a full-length piece. If not, it'll still be a credit to Indie Theatre if they just keep churning out nights like this.