THIS "FRANKENSTEIN'' WILL LEAVE YOU IN STITCHES

photo by Gaslight Theatre

The Creature (David Fanning) and his Bride (Heather Stricker) share a tender moment.

As COVID's pandemic continues edging toward the two-year mark, that energetic gang of Eastside performers at Gaslight Theatre gives a boisterous Bronx cheer to the invading virus.

Pouring their hearts, souls and pertinent body parts into their roles, this cast comes bounding on stage nightly with a highly-charged production of “Frankenstein: comedy comes alive!”

Whether you prefer your electrical currant AC or DC matters not, this show is all about the toe-tapping momentum of these animated actors when they crank up the juice and throw that switch.

Leading the attack is special guest artist and Gaslight matinee idol David Fanning in the title role, donning the heavy brow and fierce make-up to become Dr. Victor Frankenstein's hulking patchwork anatomy of ill-gotten body parts known as The Creature.

In Gaslight's production, the plot has been changed a little to enhance opportunities for more singing and dancing. With very little actual dialogue Fanning uses guttural noises and spontaneous body language to develop an endearing personality filled with the isolation of lost loneliness in one who never asked to be stitched together in the first place.

But since he was and here he is, the Creature now demands this castle full of renegade scientists and local sympathizers to build him a real Bride, as well.

Heather Stricker plays the made-to-order Bride, with signature lightning bolts of white in her jet-black beehive hairdo. Stricker in another role spends most of her stage time as Miss Elizabeth, the hopeful fiancée of young Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Jake Chapman), ambitious son of the historic namesake Frankenstein, who – some say – first created the creature and put a Forever Curse on the ignobled House of Frankenstein.

Victor the Younger believes if he simply re-animates the Creature and then destroys it, the wretched curse will be broken. But that's just the plot. Gaslight regulars know the real fun is in seeing how this stock company of facile thespians will bring each supporting character to vivid life.

Topping the list, as he often does, is David Orley as the ever-bumbling and overly-officious Inspector Klemp. Because the actual castle is an actual place near the actual German town of Ingolstadt, writer and director Peter Van Slyke cleverly identifies this town within the story's shenanigans.

Inspector Klemp is brilliant at being able to bluster up high levels of bravado in his performance. Also terrific at this sort of thing is Mike Yarema, disappearing into his role as Hans (the Igor-type of troubled hunchback laboratory assistant), whose skills include playing a mean blues harmonica.

Making her mark in a smaller role is relative newcomer Ruthie Hayashi as Frau Bratskeller, a member of the castle staff. She definitely has the wacky Gaslight intensity to carry a larger part.

The after-show olio is a company classic, and one of my personal favorites – “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” Nobody, absolutely nobody, does a better imitation of Ed McMahon than David Orley.

Not even McMahon himself is this good at commanding the stage and stealing the spotlight from Carson.

Mike Yarma plays the golf club swinging Carson with the same studied Carson-style casualness. Put them together and their recreation of the Great Carnac's schtick predicting the answer to an unknown question is pure entertainment.

The Great Carnac: “Sis Boom Bah!”

Ed McMahon: “What is the sound of a sheep exploding?”


As theater companies emerge from the pandemic quarantine, they are taking different paths. At the Gaslight, all the actors are unmasked, while all the staff and servers are wearing masks at all times. Audience members are not required to be masked. Reservations are required for all performances. Tables are spaced further apart than usual.

"Frankenstein: comedy comes alive!” runs through Nov. 7, with performances at various times Tuesdays through Sundays in the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E Broadway.

Tickets (before taxes) are $23.95 adults, with discounts for groups, students, seniors, military, first responders and children age 2-12. For further details and reservations, call 520-886-9428 or visit the Gaslight box office, open 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. daily, and online at www.thegaslighttheatre.com








RESTLESS VICTORIAN WOMEN FIND THEIR VOICE IN "THE AWAKENING"


photo by Tim Fuller

Bryn Booth as Edna Pontellier feels pinned in by the male dominated culture of proper New Orleans in the 1890s

If nothing else, the Rogue Theatre's crystal-clear adaptation of Kate Chopin's feminist classic, “The Awakening,” will inspire you to immediately read the book.

The Rogue's own Christopher Johnson, who adapted the book to the stage and then directed this production, deftly leads Bryn Booth through her heart-rending portrayal of the unsettled Edna Pontellier.

Booth delivers an award-worthy performance, capturing both the nervy defiance and the pain of isolation as Edna seeks to express feelings of her own worthiness that the upscale and proper Victorian women of the New Orleans Creole social order in the 1890s simply were not allowed to have.

Johnson has framed his account within the Rogue's own style preference for a practically bare stage, elaborate period costumes, occasional sound effects and the pantomimed motions for pouring drinks and the like.

Pianist, music director and composer Russell Ronnebaum also has an atmospheric role providing onstage accompaniment, including selections by Frederic Chopin (no relation to Kate).

Johnson also employs long passages of narration, with each cast member taking a turn stepping aside to talk directly to the audience. This works well to keep the attention on Edna as she progresses through each scene while other characters come and go, advancing in one way or another her twisting awareness that this male-oriented society has not provided any space for women to express themselves independently of their husbands or their children.

It is impossible not to see “The Awakening” through today's awareness of injustice as society seeks to re-adjust itself more fairly. How much progress has been made over the past 120 years will depend on your personal definition of a woman's place in society today.

If you see this play more than once, which is definitely recommended, you will come away with a different awareness each time.

The other eight cast members form a tight ensemble of equal contributions. They are Aaron Shand as Leonce Pontellier, Edna's husband; Hunter Hnat as Robert Lebrun, Edna's close friend; Christopher Johnson as Alcee Arobin, an infamous playboy who fancies Edna; Carly Elizabeth Preston as Adele Ratignolle, a good friend of Edna; Joseph McGrath as M. Ratignolle, the family doctor and philosopher; Cynthia Meier as Mlle. Reisz, a family friend adored for her piano playing; Christopher Pankratz as Victor Lebrun, brother of Robert; Teri Lee Thomas as Madam Lebrun, mother of Robert.

Most of the story takes place on Grand Island, Louisiana, located south of New Orleans, where proper manners are observed and respected. Edna does the best she can to meet these confining requirements, but now and then those demands become overwhelming.

We watch and nod in silent sympathy as Edna tries to escape, but there is no place to run. It is only when she is swimming in the sea that she feels most free from a society that cares little for her personal needs.

“The Awakening” runs through Sept. 26, with the video version available through Oct. 10. Performances in the Rogue Theatre at the Historic Y, 300 E. University Blvd., are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays-Sundays. Tickets are $42, students $15. Group discounts are available.

Run time with intermission is two hours and five minutes. The cast will not wear masks. Audience members are requested to wear masks through the performance. Refreshments will be available at intermission.

For further details and reservations, theroguetheatre.org, or phone 520-551-2053.