Di­a­logue heavy play drains au­di­ence and it­self of en­ergy

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - GARY SMITH Gary Smith has writ­ten on theatre and dance for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor for more than 35 years.

Just why we’re at­tracted to mon­sters is some­thing of a mys­tery.

I don’t mean the kind we en­counter in real life. I mean those colour­ful char­ac­ters from lit­er­a­ture that haunt us in the dark.

Drac­ula, Franken­stein’s Mon­ster, Cat Woman with her silken paws and fear­ful claws, and that hairy Wolf Man, who trans­forms from a hand­some man to a preda­tory beast be­fore our very eyes.

We seem to like the fear they in­stil.

Well, in his new prizewin­ning play, Van­cou­ver Is­land play­wright David Elen­dune has for­saken scare tac­tics in favour of cre­at­ing a darker vi­sion of Franken­stein, that deals with a dif­fer­ent sort of hor­ror.

His play, based on Mary Shel­ley’s gothic novel, ques­tions the pity of a God who al­lows dread­ful things to hap­pen to es­sen­tially good peo­ple. From the very be­gin­ning of his trou­bled play he sug­gests a Vic­tor Franken­stein who is be­sot­ted by the cre­ation of life. He be­comes so trans­fixed at the no­tion of turn­ing death into life he be­comes ob­sessed, al­most a recluse in his lonely lab­o­ra­tory. He doesn’t bother to write or visit his sup­posed love El­iz­a­beth. He ig­nores his fam­ily. And when he meets Hen­ri­etta Cler­val, an al­most for­got­ten play­mate from his youth, he can’t seem to shake off the tor­por that causes his spirit to grad­u­ally die.

Fright­ened of the mon­ster he has cre­ated on his lab­o­ra­tory ta­ble he weaves in and out of fan­tasies, bad dreams and nights of lost sleep.

Elen­dune cre­ates a hor­ror that has lit­tle to do with the Franken­stein mon­ster. In­stead, his play ram­bles through quasi-re­li­gious anx­i­eties that shake Vic­tor’s be­lief in God.

At times his play gets lost in too much nar­ra­tive and ma­jor char­ac­ters speak in lengthy mono­logues that not only break the fourth wall, but also sug­gest di­dac­tic recita­tions that stand in for fully-fleshed scenes.

Un­for­tu­nately, Gary San­tucci’s pro­duc­tion at that gem, The Pearl Com­pany, cleaves to the play’s end­less talk. He hasn’t found a way of stag­ing the drama’s many scenes with­out suc­cumb­ing to pro­tracted set changes that rob the piece of pace and drain it of en­ergy.

Too of­ten we sit in semi-dark­ness watch­ing two stage hands hump chairs, desks and heaven knows what else from a crowded back­stage womb. Too of­ten things that wind up on the stage are of some strange pe­riod that is nei­ther then, nor now. You might call the fur­nish­ings early Amity, since they sug­gest no par­tic­u­lar time. Sim­i­larly, cos­tumes here may look old, but they don’t de­fine a time or place.

There is too much mu­sic be­tween scenes and an end­less over­ture that plays as house lights go down at the play’s open­ing.

Then there are nig­gling lit­tle things. A semi-pe­riph­eral char­ac­ter wears bright turquoise nail pol­ish. An im­por­tant gold locket is ac­tu­ally a pearl neck­lace with some­thing in­dis­tin­guish­able bob­bing on the end. And light­ing some­times lights the very spot where no one is stand­ing.

Per­for­mances are some­times over­wrought and don’t at­tach them­selves well enough to a play that some­times leaves you won­der­ing just where it’s go­ing.

Peter An­der­son works hard to con­vey the angst of Vic­tor Franken­stein, but too of­ten he just re­cites lines with­out much truth. Rod McTag­gart has bet­ter suc­cess with Vic­tor’s Crea­ture, but it’s a mis­take to have him wan­der­ing around in the dark with his head cov­ered by an ever-present hood. I know the direc­tor, or per­haps the au­thor, is go­ing for a star­tling re­veal later on when we fi­nally see his skull and face, but it’s al­most too late then for us to de­velop any con­nec­tion with his pain.

Pamela Gard­ner’s mod­ern woman, Cler­val, has some fine mo­ments as Vic­tor’s car­ing friend from the past, but she tends to flap about too much and rush mo­ments that need em­pha­sis.

In ex­pung­ing the scare fac­tor that makes mon­sters like Drac­ula, Franken­stein’s Mon­ster and Cat Woman haunt our sleep, Elen­dune takes his play too far away from what made such crea­tures both fright­en­ing and some­how sym­pa­thetic.

AN­THONY DICASA

Rod McTag­gart is The Crea­ture and Peter An­der­son is Vic­tor Franken­stein in the David Elen­dune ver­sion of "Franken­stein" play­ing at The Pearl Com­pany.

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