Adapted from the Mary Shelley novel first published in 1818, the Four Larks developed their world premiere production of FRANKENSTEIN. After 200 years, almost everyone is familiar with the classic tale of science gone amuck when Victor Frankenstein gets the idea of giving life to an assortment of dead body parts which he fashions into a creature of his own making. Commissioned by The Wallis, this unusual Four Larks production is “an exuberant amalgamation of dynamic physical theatre, live music, and experiential design.” Adapted from the original Shelley novel by Mat Sweeney, Sebastian Peters-Lazaro, and Jesse Rasmussen, the current FRANKENSTEIN is clearly an experimental foray into the classics.
In many ways an intriguing approach to the tale, the Four Larks FRANKENSTEIN is a striking departure from the expected. From the opening during which a group of musicians outfitted as military men of Mary Shelley’s time sing their eerie prelude – to the final scene in which a despondent, despised, and isolated hybrid of Ms. Shelley and the monster treks off into a frigid and snowy expanse – the current production attempts to be true to the original novel. At the same time, some of the action also proved to be bewildering as music often drowned out the prophetic words spoken and the musicians climbed up and down walls (often hauling heavy instruments with them).
On the positive side, the dancers did an excellent job of folding themselves into scenes with athletic precision and theatrical prowess. In this endeavor, Max Baumgarten (Frankenstein) was especially noteworthy, with Joanna Lynn Jacobs (Elizabeth Lavenza/future female) close behind. Claire Woolner (Mary Shelley) and Kila Packett (Victor Frankenstein) headed up the rest of the cast, with the musicians doubling as other cast members when needed. Directed by Mat Diafos Sweeney with choreography by Sebastian Peters-Lazaro (also co-composers of the adaptation), FRANKENSTEIN contained music and choreography developed with The Ensemble as well. AUDIENCE ALERT: The production utilizes a strobe light effect, flashing lights, theatrical haze, and contains partial nudity.
Particularly striking was the fascinating mélange of props lining two vertical walls to the side of the stage, certainly representing the role of science and the quest for knowledge so fundamental to the story. Clearly, Peters-Lazaro had fun with scenic and properties design, as did costume designer Lena Sands, lighting designer Brandon Baruch, sound designer Alex Hawthorn, projection designer Laskfar Vortok, and makeup designer Jesse Rasmussen.
For those seeking an unusual multimedia experience containing song, dance, and the occasional verbalizations, FRANKENSTEIN will prove a gold mine. The Four Larks production of FRANKENSTEIN is certainly different, occasionally gripping, and eerie in its own way. For those hoping for a more predictable, standard version of the classic novel, FRANKENSTEIN may prove confusing, chaotic, and even off-putting. Audiences will no doubt self-select on this, the two hundredth anniversary of FRANKENSTEIN.
FRANKENSTEIN runs through March 1, 2020, with performances at 8 p.m. on weekdays, at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Lovelace Studio Theater is located at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Tickets are $60. For information and reservations, call 310-746-4000 or go online.