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tw: mumspiration

Two Things and a Monster

I. WHY IS IT SNOWING. WHAT IS GOING ON. IT IS ALMOST APRIL. HALP!

II. Watson was on campus yesterday and we took a lab field trip to go see the lead scientist behind it talk, and also to see Watson himself mop the floor with an assortment of CMU and Pitt students at Jeopardy. That is, in the words of the Doctor, some fearsome technology. I mean, not literally--Watson isn't Skynet. But the DeepQA technology that Watson has going on is absolutely incredible to behold. It is a major step forward for AI and I got chills watching it do its thing.

III. And the Monster. As promised, my review of Frankentstein. As it turns out, I have an awful lot of ~feelings~ about it.


Disclaimer: I was literally exhausted when I went to see it. I'd been awake for 24+ hours by that point and running around like a chicken with my head cut off for several hours prior to the show. However, by the time I got to the theatre, I had ample time, was relaxed, well fed and happy to be there. I wasn't grumpy or cranky, but I was really, really tired. So I will be the first to admit that I may have missed something or several somethings.

My overall impression of this play was, "Ye gods, what a waste." That is to say, there are an awful lot of very talented people (and, clearly, a tremendous amount of money) being used to put this play on that really ought to be using their considerable gifts on better material.

Things I can't at all fault:

The acting. By far the meatier role is the Monster, and I can see why the two leads trade the role night to night. Beyond any sort of high-minded who is the monster/who is the master issues, it's just a way of sharing the best role in the thing. The night I was in, Johnny Lee Miller was the Monster and Benedict Cumberbatch was Victor. I had actually thought (given the promotional material) that this would be a two-man play, but no, it's got a full cast. They all comported themselves well (something that couldn't be said about the National's Hamlet which had a couple very high quality leads and then a terrible supporting cast).

One could criticise Cumberbatch for playing Victor an awful lot like Sherlock (once more, with frock coats), but that's the material he was given, so I can't really lay the blame at his feet.

Whoever plays the Monster gets to full monty it up for the first 10-15 minutes (which, by the way, is 5-10 minutes too long for that sort of thing--yes, we get it, this is a very edgy, adult production because there are penises and boobs and things). So yes, I've now seen Johnny Lee Miller's todger live and in-person.

All snarking aside, the role of the Monster does require a lot of an actor, both physical and emotional, and Miller was definitely up to the task.

The tech. To be honest, the tech is the star of the show here. The set and lighting design are fantastic. I found myself wishing I had a mute button so I could just enjoy those things without being interrupted by the actual play. Some of the set pieces smacked a little bit of just being there so everyone in the audience would Ooo and Ahhh over them. (Why is there a steam engine in one scene? I have no idea, but it really looked cool.) There's a revolving stage that is used to amazing effect, practical rain and fire effects, a lighting rig above the whole shebang that is just beyond belief in its ingenuity, and the above-mentioned locomotive, and a boat. All quite steampunk and imposing and impressive.

The bad and ugly and just plain rage-inducing:

The thing that just sucked every last shred of enjoyment out of the production for me was the script itself. Why why why are all of these talented, expensive people getting involved with such a shallow, pointless, unimaginative script?!

I'm not a superfan of Frankenstein (the book), but I've read it and enjoyed it and seen other adaptations/retellings of it previously and enjoyed those. I was assuming that, given the director and the cast and all the hullaballoo, that this would be an adaptation that really plumbed the depths of what is available in the story, shining a new light on it and creating it anew for our modern era.

Er. Not so much, actually. It's a very straightforward, in-period adaptation, and the places where it does deviate from the original story significantly, it does so in the most awful, ham-handed ways possible. The characterisations of everyone but the Monster are facile in the extreme, and it turns Victor into yet another white male sociopathic genius who just doesn't understaaaand human emotions (the poor lamb). OH THE MANPAIN.

Meanwhile, female characters? AHAHAHAHAHA. Yeah, check for them in the prop room (or the fridge).

And then it gets rapey (and not soft-focus either: it is centre stage and graphic)! Bonus! Every last bit of good will I had left towards it by that point flew utterly out the window. There might as well have been a flashing neon sign above the stage reading "LOOK HOW EDGY!"

I am not opposed to the portrayal of sexual violence against women in drama, but too often it isn't there for any reason except to shock and/or create some more drama for the male characters, and this was like the platonic ideal of that phenomenon. For a play written by a dude, starring almost entirely dudes, directed by a dude, and completely 100% about dudes to bring in sudden, graphic sexual violence against women, it had better earn it, and wow did this play fail to do so. I stopped giving a shit about everyone on stage at that point, and I must confess that I'm now feeling a bit side-eye towards all the real people involved in this production, that apparently none of them saw enough of a problem with this scenario to reframe or restage it in a way that made it less gross and exploitative.

So, as I say, lots of feelings. Lots and lots of them. Almost all of them negative and angry.

As usual, almost all the critics disagree with me and hailed it as a TRIUMPH &tc. So there's a large possibility that I'm totally wrong here and misreading everything. I know several people on my flist either saw it when it was broadcast live in UK/Europe, or have tickets to see it when it comes over to the States in a week or two. I must admit that I am curious as to what everyone else thought/thinks, as much as I also want to wave my arms around and go "GO BACK! THIS IS NOT THE WAY! SAVE YOURSELVES!"

Comments

I was on the stage crew of a period-set Frankenstein back in college. I have to say, what you described is absolutely NOTHING like the play we produced. I wonder if I have anything in the attic shedding light on who wrote our produced version? I could be very biased, but I feel our Victor managed to keep the audience's empathy throughout without delving into the OMG!Manpain.

So sorry it was a disappointment. :(
I've seen other fairly straightforward (meaning: in-period, linear, hewing closely to the book, non-experimental) productions of Frankentstein adaptations. I think Dave maybe even put one on when he was a theatre teacher?

This is the risk you take with seeing live theatre, though, so I don't regret that I went. I will say though that of the three productions from the National this season that I've seen, I've judged two of them to be quite shallow. I wonder if I'm just way out of step with popular dramatic aesthetics or something.
I'm seeing the NT Live with BC as Victor tonight -- we'd initially wanted to try for the screening with him as the monster, but it didn't work out. I'll let you know my reaction, and the husband's as he is extremely uncomfortable about some things like this. He doesn't buy into the whole manpain thing, so his reaction will be very interesting.
I'll be curious to hear your thoughts. I feel like I am being way uncharitable and possibly quite wrong here, and I was way more fatigued than anyone sitting in a theatre really should be, but still... it left such an extremely bad taste in my mouth.
I need to process them and write them out, but I have to say that while I did not have your reaction, I would hardly declare it "a triumph." At one point, I leaned over to the husband while Victor was carrying on and whispered, "Narcissistic twit."

We did not see Johnny Lee Miller's todger as he wore a loincloth for the performance, as did the other creature. Also, while they didn't restage the bedroom sequence, they opted for some camera work that made it seem not that much in-you-face. Also, while she didn't have much development, I have to say in that one scene, her character displays more courage than Victor does in the entire play. Again, narcissistic twit.

And, no, the husband and I have agreed there wasn't any reason for the steam engine or the Martha Graham number that went with it.
I had heard something about the nudity being gone from the filmed nights, which I find kind of funny.

I found this New York Times review that probably more even-handedly sums up my own thoughts, without the lingering taste of "ugghhhhh" that is now tending to permeate my memories of the whole thing.

lol the Martha Graham number... what the hell even was that? I forgot all about it. It happens early enough on that I think I was sitting there going, "O...kay. So it's to be a musical then?"
tw: mumspiration

November 2012

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