Frankly, Swine Palace has a hit.
Director George Judy steers that old warship “Frankenstein” through the Straits of Seen That, down the Narrows of Done That to the Gulf of All Right!
This Swine Palace production is not at the old hog barn, but at the Claude L. Shaver Theatre on Dalrymple Drive, Baton Rouge.
A crew led by 6-foot-7 inch, 260-pound Brendan Averett (The Creature) reminds us that it’s sometimes necessary to leave the house to be entertained. Professional actor Averett’s monster doesn’t have a bolt through its neck, a blockhead or block shoes. But this dude is big, closer to seven feet than six barefooted.
Victor Gialanella’s adaptation of the early 19th-century novel by Mary Shelley plays a dangerous dramatic game, a pinball bouncing from giggle to guffaw to “oh, cute” to “Girl! DON’T go back in that room.”
Young audiences at Wednesday Pay-What-You-Can nights are fun and exasperating. It’s great to see some of them at their first theatrical performances. You know it’s their first experience with thinking before laughing because they laugh wildly in the most inappropriate places, like when The Creature kills way-cute dog Fritz, played by Penny Lane, then kills the dog’s child owner, then places them side by side on the forest floor. Slowly, the laughter seeps away. A very quiet house tells you that the some of the students have learned a lesson in drama.
The other good thing about seeing the PWYC performance is that if a show is hitting on all cylinders, or, in this case galvanic coils, on Wednesday night you can bet it’s kicking out the jams for Friday evening’s opening.
Before their demise, the child, played by Addie Prochaska, and Penny Lane the dog, steal an early scene. Prochaska got laughs and applause in her first encounter with The Creature that telegraphs the tragedy to follow.
There are suggestions that Victor Frankenstein’s monster remembers another life, and there is the obligatory “birth scene” in the lab, but Averett’s portrayal of the monster stops far short of a Monsters Inc.-like goo-goo-gah-gah. Averett looks the part and plays it nearly to perfection. Stuff is hitting the fan, a big window fan, Averett’s guy is running amok but you keep hoping that, maybe, a work release program will one day make The Creature the Biggest Welder at Avondale ship yard.
Using scrims, a projector in the balcony and a cyclorama, Judy, the set, lighting, sound designers and technicians give a 21st century audience a show that fills them in on action to this point as well as a horseback survey of theatrical invention through the years.
What makes this a performance worth seeing and worth taking students to see is how director and actors move so comfortably, at times making the audience at ease or wanting to watch through fingers splayed before their faces, in a world of make believe mere feet away. I have a quibble with one sound effect. As the sound of Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory gear mounts to crescendo, the dominant sound reminded me of my grandmother’s back porch washing machine. If that’s the effect intended, the sound people nailed it.
Solid cast with professional performances by Amar Atkins, Amanda Clark, Gregory Leute, Maggie McGurn, Tony Medlin, Tim Moriarty (Victor Frankenstein), Joe Morris, Colt Neidhardt, Spencer Smith and Addie Barnhart.
A play gets a lift when actors in minor roles stand and deliver. Smith and Morris are memorable as body snatchers Peter and Hans.
Audiences have come to expect the best in sound, scenic design, costumes, lighting and stage production at Swine Palace and LSU Theatre. Kenneth Ellis, scenic designer; Brandon R. McWilliams, costumes; Adam Parboosingh, lighting and projection; Eunjin Cho, sound; Stephen David Beck, composer; Stacey Cabaj, voice coach; and Elena Hansen, production stage manager; uphold the tradition.