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preview imageFRANKENSTEIN
Adapted by Jonathan Christensen
Catalyst Theatre
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
Jan. 15-26
604-280-3311 or

So what’s with Edmonton and these Gothic musicals?  Three years ago that city’s November Theatre first brought us William F. Burroughs and Tom Waits’grimly comic, musically grotesque, devilishly theatrical The Black Rider

Now from Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre comes a monstrously good musical Frankenstein. Along with a remounted Black Rider at the Arts Club, it starts off this year’s edition of the PuSh Festival with a bang—and a scream.

Jonathan Christenson has written a clever adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1813 novel, directed it with panache, and composed a fabulous score.  But like mad scientist Victor Frankenstein, Christenson could have used some self-restraint. His first act feels about a half-hour too long.

An excellent cast of eight recreates the Frankenstein story in grotesque, harlequinesque style through a combination of narration and performance, mostly in rhymed song.  All play multiple roles except Andrew Kushnir, around whose tightly contained Victor—and his sparingly used exceptional voice—the action swirls.

One of the real stars of the show is designer Bretta Gerecke, Her richly detailed, raggedy white costumes and dreadlocked wigs evoke the eighteenth century, Rocky Horror, and a convention of ghost clowns all at once.  A bizarre collection of hats and strangely mutated props enhance the sense of hybrid weirdness. 

Gerecke’s sets are equally evocative: a graveyard of twisted white papier-maché trees and crosses, and Arctic mountains and glaciers made of plastic shower curtains.

A bandaged face and giant claw-like hands are all that’s needed, along with the hoarse vocal delivery and heavy gait of the very fine George Szilagyi, to create the object of pity and horror that is the Creature. His compelling story of isolation, loneliness, rejection and REVENGE! takes up most of the second act. 

Because Victor destroys the Creature’s monstrous bride, with terrible poetic justice the Creature takes his revenge on Victor’s bride, Lucy, played and sung beautifully by Tracy Penner. 

Penner also does a lovely job using stylized movement to characterize Lucy.  Credit choreographer Laura Krewski, who has all the actors move with a stately, dreamlike formality.  Another standout in the physical department is long stringbean Nick Green as Victor’s friend Henry, all arms and legs and peculiar angles.

Sarah Machin-Gale, Tim Machin, Nancy McAlear and Dov Mickelson round out the ensemble. All have strong voices and are especially effective in choral songs like their gospelly advice to Victor in the graveyard, “Be Careful What You Do.”

After 200 years, Shelley’s parable about the dangers of messing with nature has lost none of its fascination or relevance, and Christenson delivers its message with wry wit.  As Victor’s drunken father sings, “If life is a bowl of cherries/One day you’ll choke on a pit.”

Jerry Wasserman