The Flying Machine’s eerie adaptation of Mary Shelley’s enduring Gothic horror tale is just the ticket for a dark and dreary night in the dead of winter. As original in concept as it is inventive in design, this thinking person’s thriller recasts the insane Dr. Victor Frankenstein as his younger self, an idealistic medical student with the mission of elevating mankind from its inherently bestial nature. Young Victor’s dream turns into a nightmare through the clever storytelling techniques of this gifted experimental company, whose imaginative production style integrates elements of masque and stylized movement with creepy sound and visual effects.
Full-service theaters with lots of black boxes to fill should get a load of what this resourceful company manages to cram into Soho Rep’s minuscule facilities.
Working with rough-planked building pieces — platforms, ramps, ladders and mismatched windows that double as free-hanging doors — the designers have created a miniature 19th century slum in London’s squalid docklands.
Illuminated by dark-as-a-dungeon candlepower and battered by the incessant street music of man and his machines, these cramped rooms and miserable alleys are home to a strangely bestial crowd of humanity — not just the usual pimps and whores and violent drunks but people with pointed ears, protuberant teeth and excessive amounts of facial hair.
Even the educated gentry — satirized with gusto by Joshua Koehn as Henry Clerval, Victor’s fellow student and only friend — strut like peacocks and bray like livestock when they present themselves in public.
Robert Ross Parker’s shy, stuttering Victor is a woeful outcast in this misbegotten crowd. So is Oleg Gershon, the man Victor turns into a monster by trying to “fix” him when he is run over and killed by a cart horse. Gershon may be a violent, drunken tramp, but in Richard Craw-ford’s finely felt perf, he is also a creature of his harsh and brutal times, the hard-luck victim of his own bad luck and imperfect nature. “Wednesday’s child,” he calls himself, someone born into misery and woe.
“I only wanted to fix him,” says Victor, who learns the hard way that human nature can’t be altered, even by well-intentioned scientists. But with all the idealism of his youth, he tries again with the sweet-tempered maidservant (“I worry about you sometimes, though, Mr. Franken-stein, I truly do”) whom Adrienne Kapstein plays as a dumb, gentle sheep. And who can tell, given the ideological twists that Mary Shelley’s text has taken: This time he might even succeed.
For a piece that plays so well as a horror story, this reconsidered “Frankenstein” shows real subtlety of thought and a certain literary deli-cacy — not to mention some horridly funny laughs. When Victor tells his friend Henry that he has brought a monster to life, Henry’s pointed ears perk right up and he declares himself eager to meet any “roving undead madmen” that might be abroad. “I live for this sort of thing,” he says.
And so should the young, hip audiences at which this clever, offbeat show is directed.