Reviewed by Holli Harms

97 minutes and not one word spoken!

97 minutes of the retelling of Mary Shelley and her infamous monster and done in the most original, inventive and compelling way.

When you enter the LuEsther Hall on The Public’s third floor you are welcomed by a plethora of instruments. The deep LuEsther is filled all the way from its back wall to the stage lip with gongs, and pots and pans for chiming, and bells, and drums, and a huge xylophone, and small child’s piano, and horns of all shapes and sizes, and microphones. Three separate projection screens, four overhead projectors lined up like soldiers, and video cameras – some stationary and one mobile or maybe there were two, there was so much, hard to tell exactly what was there without stepping onto the stage and exploring. Add to that four musicians and six performer/puppeteers and you have a very packed stage.

The performance collective known as Manual Cinema tells the story of Mary Shelley, her marriage to Percy Shelley, the loss of her baby, the three days Mary and Percy and Lord Byron spent at Lake Geneva in insurmountable rain that lead to the creation of Frankenstein and then the actual Frankenstein story, utilizing silent film, puppetry, music and sound, turning themselves into living shadow puppets.

The screens light up in real time as these deft performers pirouette in and out of costumes and wigs, making their way in silence from screen to screen. They are the performers, the puppeteers, the magic makers.

The house was full. Not one empty seat and we sat there for those all-too-short 97 minutes mesmerized, barely moving, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop, so riveted to the stage were we.

The silent film sections have the words written out like any silent movie and the funny thing is that after the show I could have sworn to you there was a narrator, but that was just my mind so involved I HEARD it being read to me. The silent films resemble daguerreotype photographs and the shadow puppets – the live shadow puppets – at times had me thinking of the artist Kara Walker’s almost life size cut outs. It was all so breathtaking.

Next time Manual Cinema is in town I am there and so should you be.

Frankenstein By Manual Cinema, Adapted from the novel by Mary Shelley, Concept by Drew Dir
Devised by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia VanArsdale Miller, Original music composed by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman, Storyboarder: Drew Dir, Puppet Designer: Drew Dir and Lizi Breit, Video and Set Designer: Davonte Johnson, Costume Designer: Mieka van der Ploeg, Lighting Designer: Claire Chrzan, Sound Designer: Ben Kauffman and Kyle Vegter, Sound Engineer: Mike Usrey, Stage Manager: Shelby Glasgow , Video Mixing and Live Sound Effects: Shelby Glasgow (Jan. 3-7) and Kyle Vegter (Jan. 10-12)

Puppeteers: Sarah Fornace (Victor Frankenstein, Mary Shelley) Julia VanArsdale Miller (The Creature, Elizabeth Frankenstein) Leah Casey (Caroline Frankenstein, Percy Shelley, Vocals) Sara Sawicki (Alphonse Frankenstein, Lord Byron) Myra Su (Ensemble) Lizi Breit (Ensemble Understudy Jan. 5&6)

Musicians: Zachary Good (clarinets and aux percussion), Deidre Huckabay (flutes, aux percussion, piano), Lia Kohl (cello, aux percussion, vocals), Peter Ferry (percussion)

Frankenstein at the LuEsther Hall at The Public Theater