Review: ‘Frankenstein’ — A Monster Minus Thrills and Chills
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, December 28, 2017
I wish all monsters looked like Robert Fairchild.
In this latest effort from the Ensemble for the Romantic Century, Fairchild, as Mary Shelley’s creature, moves to his own choreography, a lurching, disturbing expression of the Frankenstein creature’s own pain. Fairchild, late of An American in Paris and Brigadoon, conveys torments beautifully, and is truly a marvel to watch. Although his performance is fascinating, the production itself suffers from an awkwardness and confusion almost as painful as the torments of the creature himself.
Ensemble for the Romantic Century aims to combine classical music, projections, historical documents, and dramatic scenes in an effort to “reconjure the past.” Sometimes (The Dreyfus Affair) it works better than others (sadly, this time). The ensemble’s executive artistic director, Eve Wolf, mixes the fiction of Mary Shelley’s book and the facts of Mary Shelley’s life. The facts nearly surpass the fiction in tragedy: Shelley’s mother died shortly after she was born, she lost three children of her own, and was widowed early when her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, drowned at the age of 29.
The story has enough juice, one would think, to power the dramatic scenes. But they fall flat, with awkward dialogue and colorless, strangely modern performances. The connections that the production promises to make between the life of the author and her creation remain unilluminated. Mia Vallet as Mary and Paul Wesley as Percy are somehow both dull and overdone. Wesley in particular, in his tight breeches and riding boots, looks like the hero of a romance novel. Both seem to have wandered in from an episode of an Outlander knockoff.
The music, however, by Liszt, Bach, and Schubert on oboe, piano, organ, and harpsichord, is lovely. Mezzo-soprano Krysty Swann floats in and out on a cloud of heavenly song. Fairchild moves, and moves us. If only we didn’t have to hear those people talk!
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein produced by the Ensemble for the Romantic Century at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, through January 7, 2018. Run time is two hours with one intermission. Text by Mary Shelley. Directed by Donald T. Sanders; choreography by Robert Fairchild; scenic and costume design by Vanessa James; projection design by David Bengali; sound design by Bill Toles. Cast: Robert Fairchild, Peyton Lusk, Avey Noble, Shiv Ajay Pancholi-Parekh, Rocco Sisto, Krysty Swann, Mia Vallet, Paul Wesley. Musicians: Steven Lin (piano), Kemp Jernigan (oboe), and Parker Ramsey (organ and harpsichord).
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Cover: Robert Fairchild in ‘Frankenstein;’ photo: Shirin Tinati.