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