PLAYING WITH FIRE (AFTER FRANKENSTEIN)by Barbara Field
3 Cords Theatre
Director: Bill Sizemore
Stage Manager: Barrie Alguire
Set Designer: Jason Leyva
Lighting Designer: Billy Allen
Costume Designer: Judy Sizemore
Sound Designer: Phyllis Clayton-Huaute
Victor: Christian Genco
Frankenstein: Nelson Wilson
Adam (The Creature): Joshua Hahlen
The Creature: Jason Leyva
Elizabeth: Noelle Fabian
Dr. Krempe: Danny Macchietto
Reviewed Performance: 10/12/2013
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Amidst familiar titles and audience favorites, 3 Cords Theatre and L.I.P. Service have joined forces to produce artistic theatre that forces the audience to think. Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein) is most likely a play few have heard of but is one everyone interested in live theater should see. While the title may bring to mind images of lumbering giants with green skin and unintelligible grunts, the portrayal of The Creature in this production is nothing less than genius. It is the creature of Mary Shelley’s imagination, rather than the Hollywood version, that painfully moves through life in this depiction.
I spoke with Director Bill Sizemore about what made him choose this play as the breakout production of the new 3 Cords Theatre, in conjunction with L.I.P. Service, and he spoke of the power of experience in creating who we really are and the effects of bullying, tolerance, and love. All of these seemed unlikely for a play which features the creature from tales we first heard in our youth, and I was intrigued and excited to experience the play.
Sitting in the theater waiting for the show to begin, a small screen high above the set projected movie trailers from the more familiar Hollywood version of the Frankenstein story. Words like “Terrifying”, “Disastrous”, and “Fiendish” flashed across the screen. Big stars like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Boris Karloff appeared on the screen and reminded me of the stereotypical monster portrayed in such flicks.
When the play began, it was with a scene that had been added by Sizemore. This scene epitomizes the meaning he found in the script, with the newly reanimated creature, Adam, attempting to make sense of his surroundings. Without words, the helplessness, fear and innocence of a baby being brought into the world were portrayed. Immediately, I felt concern for the creature and was able to understand that, although science played a part, his entrance into the world was just as spectacular as a miracle of birth.
When the performance rejoined the script written by Barbara Field, The Creature, older now and powerfully portrayed, and Victor Frankenstein are in the North Pole. Frankenstein has just found the creature after a long hunt and intends to kill him. The progression of the play followed the dialogue between the two and moments of memory portrayed by the rest of the cast.
The set design by Jason Leyva was primarily suggestive of the surroundings of the North Pole, with painted backdrop and steps on one side and short platforms on the other. Across the back of the proscenium stage were metal frames with an assortment of beakers and graduated cylinders with mysterious, bubbling concoctions. The screen which had been used prior to the show continued to be used throughout the play, showing lightning and, often, the sun.
Lighting design by Billy Allen gave the set an ominous feel. Occasionally, lighting was blocked by characters which left some in the dark when illumination would have been useful. Sound design by Phyllis Clayton-Huaute added suspense and familiarity through sound effects and music. Once, the sound of a woman screaming became a part of the dialogue between Frankenstein and The Creature.
Judy Sizemore, as Costume Designer, did a fantastic job with period clothing for Victor, Elizabeth, Dr. Knempe and Frankenstein. Of special note, The Creature’s cloak – made of strips of fur, wool, and other fabrics – added depth to the portrayal.
The staging was impeccable. Sizemore positioned Frankenstein and The Creature “on top of the world” stage right and enactment of memories stage left. Occasionally, past and present interacted with each other. As the play progressed, the memories and the present gradually melded into one until The Creature looked face-to-face with a young mirror image of himself. The mirror image effect was carried throughout the memories, with young Victor writing frantically on a blackboard – the writing backwards – and with his left hand . The detail of this was impressive, including Adam having scars that mirror The Creature, and speaking out of the opposite side of his mouth. This tiny detail, quite possibly missed by some in attendance, was an example of the dedication to the art that Sizemore and the cast devoted to this production.
Jason Leyva’s portrayal of The Creature made him unrecognizable to those who have followed his acting career. A low, guttural voice was maintained throughout the play which had a resonance revealing the power of the creature while his words screamed of the pain his one weakness – the need to be loved – caused him. Leyva was on stage from his first appearance through the final scene and the energy and depth with which he portrayed this often misunderstood monster was breathtaking. With each appeal The Creature made to Frankenstein, Leyva nudged him further into the hearts of the audience. I found myself silently chanting, ‘Just love him, just love him’, to an unhearing Frankenstein. The pain in his voice, mixed with anger, loneliness and fear, fulfilled the character originally penned by Shelley.
Nelson Wilson in the role of the elder Frankenstein also performed non-stop throughout the play. The mix of arrogance and uncertainty in his portrayal was spot-on and complemented the storyline well. I was especially impressed with Wilson’s ability to draw pure hatred and revulsion upon his face when listening to The Creature speak. Frankenstein undergoes a slight transformation through the course of the dialogue and Wilson aptly transitioned as well while still being believable.
Joshua Hahlen had an interesting role, playing the Creature, Adam. With a youthful innocence, Adam continually believed in the goodness of people and was always met with the hatred that became a routine part of his life. Hahlen’s performance appropriately balanced Leyva’s seasoned Creature and the scenes where Leyva and Hahlen found themselves staring each other in the eye were electrifying.
Young Victor Frankenstein was played by Christian Genco and he did a fine job of portraying a youthful fright while he awaited news of his mother’s death. As Victor aged through the play, Genco adjusted his demeanor to that of determined college student, star-crossed lover, and finally repentant, yet secretive adult.
Elizabeth, Victor’s cousin and fiancée, was played by Noelle Fabian. Her portrayal was womanly yet demure, a solid foundation for Victor’s infatuation. Dr. Krempe, Victor’s college professor, was a curious character. In the role, Danny Macchietto’s interpretation seemed comic and almost out of place within the intellectual dialogue.
The crew, managed by Barry Alguire, should be commended for providing quick scene changes that never detracted from the action despite many of them occurring during dialogue.
At the conclusion of the play, I felt sympathy for the pathetic, brilliant, and misunderstood creature. I left the theater having learned something about life. I certainly saw this story from a new perspective, understanding the tragedy that can be created within a life without love. I have seen many plays in 2013, all of which have been strong presentations of the talent that exists in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein) is by far the strongest of any I’ve seen in terms of the artistic interpretations and wonderfully written script. If you were only allowed to see one show this year, this should be the one.
L.I.P. Service/3 Cords Theatre at Plaza Arts Center
1115 4th Avenue, Carrollton, Texas
Plays through October 26th
Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Tickets are $15.00 for all performances.
For more info & to purchase tickets, call 817-689-6461 or visit www.jasonleyva.com.