Neal Bell’s play Monster dramatizes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, keeping the basic story points of the novel intact: Victor Frankenstein (Joe Varca), a brilliant young scientist, assembles and brings to life what he hopes will be a beautiful creation, only to have it turn out a grotesque and hideous creature (John Zdrojeski in a brilliantly nuanced performance). After Victor loses consciousness, effectively forsaking his creation, the creature goes out into the world, hoping to find love and compassion; when he encounters only hostility and rejection, a yearning for vengeance emerges.
Also intact are some of the major themes of the novel: Man as creation and creator; Man’s relationship to God; the state of being alive; unreciprocated love; personal and existential loneliness, etc. Monster explores these thoughtfully and unpretentiously, yet the middle of the 95 minute show meandered in that dark, existential territory, one which created a soporific effect. Not to say that what we learn in those thirty or so minutes is redundant exactly, but if you plotted a graph to illustrate the play’s dramatic arc, this section would be represented by a straight, somber line. This issue is intertwined with the character of Victor, who, except for a flashback as a child towards the beginning of the play, stays basically the same: aloof, obsessed, desperate and a bit mad. The intention seems to be to keep the same grave mood throughout. An addition of more human details, little details, would make his character more real within the circumstances. A little variation here and there might have made his character more relatable; the show more dynamic, and the tragedy more tragic. The show does eventually pick up in the second act, however, and the climax is powerful.
It’s a pleasure to see a solid, sincere, serious play that deals with big philosophical ideas, even if it is tedious in the middle third. The show is capably directed by Jim Petosa on Hallie Zieselman’s nearly bare stage, which comes alive with the aid of Aubrey Dube’s terrific sound design and Mark Evancho’s evocative lighting. It’s a pleasure to report that the performances are uniformly lovely: Britian Seibert as Elizabeth; Christo Grabowski as Walton/Clervall; Ken Cheeseman as Foster/Father; the excellent Paula Langton as Mother/Justine; and the delightful Noah Berman as Will/Cat. Monster is a largely effective play which tackles the big ideas well, but it could benefit from the fleshing-out of characters. A little nuance would add more life to the stylized gothic allegory of Monster.
photos by Stan Barouh
Potomac Theater Project (PTP/NYC) and Atlantic Stage 2 in New York City
scheduled to end on July 29, 2012
for tickets, visit http://ptpnyc.org/