Dialogue heavy play drains audience and itself of energy
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.
Rod McTaggart is The Creature and Peter Anderson is Victor Frankenstein in the David Elendune version of "Frankenstein" playing at The Pearl Company.