Impressive stage effects star in this re-telling of 'Frankenstein'

Frankeinstein, Play by Victor Gilanella. Directed by Tom Moore If theater spectacle could ensure spectacular drama, the version of this familiar tale with which Broadway greeted the new year might well achieve its purpose. Nothing has been spared in the way of special super-effects for Victor Gilanella's retelling of the 1818 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley story about the Swiss nobleman whose laboratory manmonster ultimately destroyed its creator.

The production at the Palace Theater seems destined for Tony Award nominations in all the technical departments. Douglas W. Schmidt's ingenius settings, on a huge revolving stage, are monumentally gothic. Victor Frankenstein's lab is a mad scientist's playpen of retorts, switches, condensers , and gadgets galore. Jewels Fisher and Robby Monk have lit up the proceedings with laser beams, flashes of lightning, eerie luminosity, and other bedazzlements. Thunder rumbles and crackles in Bran Ferren's sound effects while the amplified organ and syntheziser reverberate with echoing chords and arpeggios.

It has been director Tom Moore's task to create a performance to match these technical marvels. He has to an extent succeeded. His second-act coup de theatre, in particular, had a preview audience gasping.

As the obsessed Frankenstein, David Dukes wavers between strained rationality and destraught helplessness as he surrenders to the Creature he has manufactured. Not withstanding his grotesque makeup, Keith Jochim wins a kind of sympathy for the wretched monster who murders in panic and who blackmails Frankenstein into creating him a female companion. There is even some touching emotion in the tutelage scenes, with the blind hermit DeLacey -- finely played by John Carradine -- and in the Creature's meeting with Frankenstein's little brother (Scott Schwartz).

Among the other principals who populate the Swiss estate are John Glover as the scientist's friend and reluctant collaborator, Diane Wiest as Frankenstein's long-suffering fiancee, Richard Kneeland and Kate Wilkinson as the Muellers, Douglas Seale as the elder Frankenstein, and John Seitz and Dennis Bacigalupi as the body snatchers who become the monster's first victims. The actors work zealously to sustain the spectator's willing suspension of disbelief at the grim horror tale unfolds. But for all their efforts and for all the special effects, the Gialanella treatment seldom rises above the level of spectacular hocum.

Although Mary Shelley rates no mention, the Playbill Who's Who conclude with a fascinating list of technical credits. Among them: Pyrotechnic special effects supplied by MP Associates; Pyrex scientific glassware courtesy of Corning Glass Works; organ recorded at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University -- George Stauffer, organist; and Synthesize r recording by Stephen Horelick, Patchworks Studio.

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