REVIEW: Themes in Burien Actors Theatre’s Dr. Frankenstein very timely


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Photos by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

By Shelli Park

The themes which Burien Actors Theatre’s 2018 season opener, Dr. Frankenstein, deal with are very timely as women continue to fight for an equal voice and humans continue to feel their way through all of the challenges which life throws at us.

Sometimes with grace, and sometimes, not.

I am a longtime fan of the complexities addressed in the original Mary Shelley ‘Frankenstein’ story. It is fun to experience a new iteration of the story.

The set created for this production is beautiful. The palette is subdued, without being depressing, and it is laid out in such a way that, although the spaces are interconnected, they function independently. A good flow of action is created. The details are refined and appropriate for the time period, the 1800’s. Set Designer Albie Clementi and Cyndi Baumgardner, Props and Set Dresser, nailed it for this production.

With such a satisfying backdrop, and a successful play directed last season by the productions director Beau M.K. Prichard (Rapture, Blister, Burn), I was ready to be transported.

The cast is strong, creating scenes where I was transported into the intimate moment and could absorb the emotional content without repercussion.

A few of these moments occurred between the Frankenstein family’s maid, Mary (Vera Werre), and Dr. Victoria Frankenstein (Skyler Gahley), the title character, as they sit by the fire chatting. Victoria’s mother died in childbirth when she was a young girl, and as a result, feels lost and the acute pain of that loss. Mary is simple and wise. She is a comforting presence to Victoria and the family. Werre is perfect in her role.

Justine, the youngest Frankenstein child’s nanny, is played with a palpable sense of honesty by Kayleah Lewis. She is naive, but also very brave and strong in her convictions.

Victoria’s sister Elizabeth is played by Erin Sullivan. Sullivan succinctly creates a character who is the opposite of Victoria’s rebellious independence. She is much more traditional, yet able to love her sister unconditionally.

Gahley is quite wonderful as Dr. Victoria. She is an independent mind fighting what seems to be the continuing theme of women fighting for relevancy in what are, in Western tradition, male dominated fields. In this case the field is science. Fueled by her endlessly curious mind, and the deep grief she carries from the loss of her mother, Victoria is bent on curing death through science. And establishing her own, personal, relevancy.

Tragedy compounds tragedy, however, as Victoria’s creation, the Creature, continues a life of his own, unknown to, but suspected by Victoria. She is so wrapped up in what she feels to be of primary importance, her research into vanquishing death and the pain it causes, that she loses sight of what is truly important, truth and family. She claims her goal is to help all humankind, but really it is a selfish quest.

Unfortunately, I have one complaint. At times, I felt dragged through a diatribe which felt obvious and unnecessary. The Creature (Phillip Keiman) is a difficult role to play. The role takes a delicate hand in that it must be ‘other’ without becoming a caricature. Keiman does an alright job in the physicality department with a limp and gnarled hand. The inability to speak clearly is also understandable, literally. It is difficult, however, to find empathy for this creature, and that is one of the goals of the story; finding empathy for the Other, especially when that Other is our own creation. Here, I believe the direction is at fault. Soliloquy is used as the Creature’s main mode of communication, which, as a dramatic device, if used with a steady hand, could have been successful. The Creature appeals to the audience to feel sorry for the abuse he has endured at the hands of the ignorant and fearful. Where things go painfully wrong is when, at one point, the Creature is yelling directly at the audience about how bad humans are. Instead of being led to the truth through clever dialogue, as is used elsewhere in the play, we are faced with the weaknesses in our nature, as a slap in the face, and it is hard to not feel defensiveness and disgust. I’m not against learning hard lessons, I’m just not a fan of being yelled at.

The script, written by Selma Dimitrijevic, has many successful moments, but it is also inconsistent. It could have used one more round of editing. The directing could have helped smooth over the inconsistencies, but instead, compounded the injuries. I only hope that some of these things can be fixed before the run is over.

Despite the challenges, it is worth checking out this ambitious 2018 season opener.

NOTE: This show contains infrequent adult language that includes “G, H and J” words and one “F” word. BAT’s policy is to inform audiences of content but to let parents, guardians and teachers make decisions that they feel appropriate for the youth and teens in their care.

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REMAINING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at Burien Actors Theatre, 14501 4th Ave. S.W. in Burien.

Ticket prices range from $7 to $20. Student tickets are $10.

  • Friday, October 12, 2018: 8pm
  • Saturday, October 13, 2018: 8pm
  • Sunday, October 14, 2018: 2pm
  • Friday, October 19, 2018: 8pm
  • Saturday, October 20, 2018: 8pm
  • Sunday, October 21, 2018: 2pm
  • Friday, October 26, 2018: 8pm
  • Saturday, October 27, 2018: 8pm
  • Sunday, October 28, 2018: 2pm

THE CAST, DIRECTOR AND DESIGNERS
Stage directors Beau M.K. Prichard and Barbara Cawley direct the talented cast of Skyler Gahley (Dr. Victoria Frankenstein), Phillip Keiman (Creature), Nikolai “Niko” Mell (Henry Clerval), Erin Sullivan (Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein), Kayleah Lewis (Justine Moritz), James “Jim” Snowden (Father) and Vera Werre (Mary). Heather Bernadette is the show’s stage manager.

Designers for the show are: Albie Clementi, set; Rob Falk, lighting; Cyndi Baumgardner, props and set dressing; Rochelle-Ann Graham, costumes; Erika Jacobson, Creature makeup; and Eric Dickman, sound.

ABOUT BURIEN ACTORS THEATRE
Exciting live theater has been a tradition in Burien since 1955. Incorporated in 1980, Burien Actors Theatre has been a leading producer of quality live theater serving residents of the Seattle and south Puget Sound areas.

BAT gives audiences an intriguing and invigorating theatre experience with unusual and fantastical productions they can’t see on film or see anywhere else. The company’s mission is to treat audiences to productions of the highest artistic integrity that excite, engage and involve both the local and expanding theatrical communities in the Puget Sound region.

BAT is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) entity and operates on revenue from ticket sales, donations, grants, sponsorships and volunteers.

More info at www.burienactorstheatre.org.

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