Inflatable Frankenstein

nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
January 5, 2013

Considered “the quintessential American performance group” by The Drama Review, the Brooklyn-based collective Radiohole presents a new sample of their eclectic signature pieces, a delightful postmodern postmortem multidimensional assemblage of arresting visuals, disturbing sounds, engrossing fabrics of words, magnetic performers, and electrifying stage metaphors. Not to mention the dripping flubber (flying rubber – for those unfamiliar with the term – a mixture of warm water, elmers glue, Borax and food coloring, fun to play with, even for kids), the organic live substance, besides pumped air, in Inflatable Frankenstein.

Irreverent, smart and vivacious, the extravagant production starts with a surprising bang: what would usually be a talk-back with the creators at the end of a show. The actors respond to the questions of a moderator, explaining their inspiration, articulating ideas, sharing insights, interjecting each other.

The Radiohole-istic approach to the old Frankenstein story allows the Creature, the monster, to take center stage and speak his mind. Eric Dyer is the Creature’s voice and his face is at times video projected on his own back, on the two women’s inflatable bellies, on the flubber brains kneaded in a parody of a cook show on ShitCan TV, and on the big screen that welcomes us in the theatre with images of glacial landscapes at the top and fire at the bottom. A Hell-Heaven dichotomy? A metaphor for Mother Earth? For Prometheus and Zeus? Maybe. Or rather the omnipresent question that Radiohole sews into the text: what is it like to be a metaphor for everything?

In this case, the Creature seems to be a metaphor for the show as well, the creators offering us many glimpses into a self-referential reality (as shown by this excerpt from the script):

Although there have been countless adaptations of Frankenstein before; on stage, on screen, in novels, and poems, somehow tonight’s speakers have managed to do an extremely difficult thing, to breathe life into seemingly dead tissue, and to liberate Frankenstein from the long shadow of Boris Karloff. Leading experts now estimate that show business is currently 90% hype and 10% bullshit. Radiohole, bless their hearts, have gone far beyond that. "InflatableFrankenstein" needs no hype. It transcends the very essence of the bullshit for which the public pays millions each year. Do not be fooled by gossip and idle rumors. In a world of sham, "Inflatable Frankenstein" is truly the genuine article.

I would agree with them. The show is a gem of post-dramatic alchemy in contemporary performance, a freshly re-kneaded horror movies dough mixed with literary ingredients, object-driven performance, soundscape spices, and innovation powder, all soaked into the new waves of avant-garde theatre.

Source material includes Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, James Whale's classic Frankenstein films, details from Mary Shelley's tragic life, the work of Antonin Artaud (along the lines and dots: “There are enough details to make it understandable / To be more precise would spoil the poetry of the thing”) and parts of over 100 cinematographic adaptations of the novel.

Galvanized by the efforts of giving Mary Shelley and her Creature the long overdue spotlight, the performers never hold back their bold experimentation with deconstructing the text and the perception of the classic (over Hollywood-ized) mother-tale of the horror genre: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

The strange yet magnetic environment design relies on imaginatively built objects, costumes and installations, which provide a fascinating mix of visual representations of the past embroidered into the future. A sort of technological absurdity is effectively rendered by futuristic elements applied on old sewing machines and period outfits, creating the illusion of alien printing presses caught in zombie polygraphic processes.

The incredible Maggie Hoffman (as Mary Shelley) stamps the word “words” on the transparent plastic to be printed and ultimately inflated, like another limb of the weirdly luminous show-creature. Life and death, parenting and loving your children, loneliness and rejection, deconstruction and reconstruction, love and anger, frustration and inspiration, are only a few of the existential themes interwoven in the rich texture of the original novel. The Radiohole show re-imagines that world and delivers a (w)hole new scenic universe while allowing us to witness the birth. It’s simply beautiful.

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