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Robert Ross Parker and Richard Crawford
in Frankenstein
(Photo © David Gochfeld)
A production of Frankenstein is not the most obvious choice for the Christmas holiday season, but The Flying Machine is offering a magical presentation that is more a dark fairy tale than a horror story. Although the program states that the show is adapted from the novel by Mary Shelley, it's a very loose adaptation. Several of the characters from the novel are here in some form, but there are plenty of additions and changes to the plot.

In this version of the tale, created and performed by the company, Victor Frankenstein (Robert Ross Parker) is a young, brilliant student under the tutelage of Professor Waldman (Jason Lindner). While Waldman discusses scientific theory, Victor is keen on its practical application. He has re-engineered a toad's anatomy to give it a better chance of survival in a hostile environment, correcting what he sees as a "naturally occurring mistake." "You cannot nor should you actually attempt to refute a law of nature," Waldman warns him. "There are reasons for things to be as they are."

Later, Victor goes out drinking with his friend Henry Clerval (Joshua Koehn) and meets a man named Gershon (Richard Crawford). The latter is both a beggar and a con man, eager to get his hands on Victor's money. A scuffle ensues and Victor accidentally causes the man's death. Seeking to make amends, he subjects Gershon's body to a procedure similar to the one he had performed on the toad, causing the dead man to rise again in monstrous form.

Joshua Carlebach, founder and co-artistic director of The Flying Machine, directs the production in a stylish and innovative manner. While the cast members adopt British accents, their speech is not so much realistic as it is reminiscent of voices that you'd hear in a cartoon program set in England. To further distance the play from reality, all of the actors wear prosthetic ear extensions that give them an elfin look.

The set, designed by Marisa Frantz, is a wonderful invention with plenty of irregularly sized doors and frosted-over windows. It opens up and closes like a puzzle box, which is a recurring metaphor within the show. James Japhy Weideman's murky lighting also contributes to the overall look of the production; particularly effective are several low-wattage bulbs that hang down from the ceiling and are occasionally manipulated by the actors. Composer Jacob Lawson and sound designer Jeff Lorenz provide nearly continuous underscoring; violin music mixes in with the ticking of a clock, the ringing of bells, the muttering of a crowd, and other noises. The cumulative effect is entrancing and helps to establish the show's atmosphere.

Parker successfully conveys Victor's nervous mannerisms and social awkwardness, although his hesitant way of speaking is annoying at times. Crawford is terrific, bringing a tragic, very human sense of confusion to the role of a man who has become a monster. Koehn, as Clerval, overplays the character's peppiness; his boisterousness seemes forced and stereotypical. On the other hand, Adrienne Kapstein, as Victor's maidservant Sonia, radiates a wide-eyed innocence that is quite endearing.

Nearly all of the cast members play multiple roles (the exceptions are Parker and Crawford). They are also responsible for manipulating the set and generating special effects such as falling snow. While a few tangible props are used, most of the props are mimed, with varying degrees of proficiency. Running an intermissionless hour and a half, the production is briskly paced and enchantingly staged.

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