Saturday, May 8, 2010

review of Catalyst Theatre's Frankenstein



Catalyst theatre’s gorgeous production of Frankenstein, currently running at the Bluma Appel theatre, is worth seeing for the set and costumes alone. And once they iron out some of the technical problems that seemed to plague opening night, it may become an admirable and visually exciting spectacle to behold, for the first few minutes. Unfortunately the lighting expertise that should have catapulted Bretta Garecke’s breathtaking paper sets and costumes into a world of chaotic shadow and muted colours is understated in a disappointing and rather lifeless way, while Jonathan Christenson’s score takes a similar turn, and punctuates too many rhyming couplets with a monotonous often techno sounding beat that appears ghoulish and ominous at the beginning but becomes irritating early into the first act. Skilled singers are unable to rise above the dull manufactured sounds that punctuate the beginnings and ends of lines and whole stanzas, weighing down what might have been a collection of diverse musical tableaus and producing a shallow cornucopia of somewhat bland recitative.


Reminiscent of the engaging and darkly humourous tales of Edward Gorey, and the more recent trash operas of the Tiger Lillies (Shockheaded Peter and The Gorey End), this lavish production has some fine moments, but lags due to repetition and some weak performances. A cast of eight very competent performers taking on multiple roles is impressive at the outset. However, over time their voices become strained and unmemorable as they blur into a rather bland mélange of sung storytelling that forsakes characterization for the sake of too much unnecessary description. Herein lies the problem with the script. Although Mary Shelley’s original story shines through in all its allegorical layers, the Catalyst production spends too much time telling the linear, familial details of the tale rather than enacting them. At least fifteen to twenty minutes could be cut from the first act followed by a much shorter second act.


There are some standout performances such as the gorgeous, at times tremolo inflected voices of the lead female performers - Tracy Penner as Lucy and Nancy Mcalear as Justine are engaging and intricately drawn in their roles. Dov Mickelson also has some wonderful moments as Young William as he takes possession of a very odd character and makes him a truly ghoulish and sympathetic misfit. But the choral moments never quite gel and the frequent bursts of repetitive spoken word chanting render the overall production a bit of an eclectic, overly ambitious hodgepdoge of theatrical mishaps.


Despite the production’s many problems Catalyst should be commended for taking on such an ambitious project and rendering it in an exciting and unique style. The current production, for all intents and purposes, looks like a very good early workshop production of a promising new spectacle.



running at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 29th

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