Presented by Silent Protagonist Theatre
Did you hear about the six-foot puppet? Did you know that Frankenstein was the name of the creator, NOT the monster? Do you know how this works—Life, Art and that charged space in-between? Whether you consider yourself savvy or clueless, the whimsical Frankenstein(eqsue) has your back.
The meta-theatricality is established right from the top. Five performers—dressed in black, faces painted white—sit atop stage blocks that feature text indicating key beats of the source story—THE CREATURE CONFRONTS FRANKENSTEIN, THE CREATURE DISCOVERS ITS TRUE NATURE, and so forth. We open on two discussions running in tandem—one about the miracle of synthetically-facilitated life, the other addresses their involvement in the very show we’re watching.
Self-aware theatre is ubiquitous and can be insufferable when it’s used as a crutch for limp and flimsy ideas, but this, I assure you, is not such a pretentious bore. Incorporating elements of their own lives, this collaborative work brings the actors—Graeme Black Robinson, Steph Crothers, Julian Murphy, Michelle Gram and John Daniel—together in a shared act of multi-layered creation.
Robinson, who devised this show and created it’s showcase puppet, falls into the Viktor Frankenstein role—desperate to retain control and authority over this spectacle. As he explains, in evocative detail, the technical process of manufacturing the puppet, he guides his fellow actors through the steps of putting all its component parts together.
As the creature forms before our eyes, we are simultaneously aware of it as a construct and—amazingly—as a sentient, intensely present… person. A lot of this is projection, of course, but well—all effective stories do this empathy-inducing magic trick.
It gradually dawns on us that the Frankenstein story is actually playing out before us, with the actors rebelling against Robinson, demanding agency for themselves as the living motor of the creature. It’s all very heady and, as intense emotions erupt, also very moving.
Director Nicole Wilson employs myriad theatrical conventions, lamp-shading them with such genuine affection and fluidity that they never fall flat. Even through the artifice of all the sustained deconstruction, we invest in the human authenticity of the situation.
It isn’t realistic enough to drag us into the uncanny valley, but the puppet is still quite creepy. Our imagination invents its consciousness yet it feels somehow unknowable. We can’t suss out its true intentions. Many of its shenanigans, though, are very funny. In one hilarious, uncomfortable scene, things take a very risqué turn.
And “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is a clever, inspired choice!