Theater Review - Body politic

Sensurround's Frankenstein goes to extremes

__In Frankenstein in Love, Clive Barker takes Mary Shelley's reanimated creature for a little vacation. Barker's play brings the misunderstood brute, usually found in the mountains of Europe, to Latin America, where the fresh surroundings make a new monster out of it. Sensurround Staging's production of Frankenstein in Love proves both frightening and strangely touching, especially when it focuses on the conflicted nature of the doctor's creation. But Barker's play stitches together gestures and ideas inspired by everyone from Heironymous Bosch to Alice Cooper, and not all of the components come to life.

The premise imagines that the fictional Dr. Frankenstein and the historic Nazi Josef Mengele were essentially the same person, and here "Josef Frankenstein" (Marc Cram) has abandoned his experiments in Auschwitz to take up residence in a Latin American dictatorship, where he tampers with nature beneath the presidential palace.

The play opens to find the unnamed country in the throes of a coup. The corrupt president (Rodney Leete), attempting to hide in Frankenstein's workshop, discovers a severed but still living head with an exposed brain — the first of the play's many grisly but accomplished gore effects. The dictator is captured by Cesar Guerrero (Steve Westdahl), who isn't just the leader of the revolution but is also the patchwork monster himself, seeking justice for the country and a long-awaited confrontation with Frankenstein.

The script's political dimensions prove its most fascinating. Late in Act One, the misshapen Cesar addresses cheering crowds while draped in a red-and-white-striped flag. Not only does the play argue that Frankenstein's monster embodies the oppressed masses, it shows the dilemma of a new nation faced with an undead president who means well but who uses heroin to contain his homicidal impulses.

Hidden beneath makeup and various costumes, Westdahl superbly captures the war of Cesar's gentle sensibilities and his literal thirst for blood. Cesar's mismatched hands represent his divided personality, with one having belonged to a sensitive, elderly poet, and the other to a violent young gambler.

Like Sensurround's other Barker play, History of the Devil, Frankenstein has a superfluous narrator (Kalina McCreery) with an awkwardly ironic delivery. The narrator's musings on life and death suggest the most tedious entries of a high school Goth girl's journal. Most of the play's "human" characters tend to be cartoonish, with Leete's Presidente being especially shrill. But director Aileen Loy ensures that Frankenstein's freakish creations are quite affecting, such as the former enlightened gentleman (Patrick Wood) stricken with a bulbous, mushroom-like head and a taste for human flesh. There's a tender relationship between Cesar and Veronique (effectively underplayed by Caroline Masclet), a woman whose physical scars only hint at her internal mutations. And while love may rescue Cesar from his vicious side, Dr. Frankenstein has his own plays for Veronique.

Deisha Oliver's live cello music gives a somber, controlled mood to material that breaks every taboo within reach. Gruesome though Chris Brown's visual effects may be, the spoken imagery can be worse, and now and then you get a stomach-churning image like "a mouthful of eyeballs" or intimations of perverse sex. But those lines aren't nearly as unpleasant as lame puns like "Cain killed his brother because he was Abel."

Frankenstein in Love also goes to extremes in length: It isn't just long, it's crazy long, lasting more than three hours. For its Grand Guignol visuals and sheer imagination, it's a play worth seeing, yet you may be tempted to sneak out at intermission, especially given that Act One's political satire gives way to drawn-out Oedipal rivalries in Act Two. But if you leave early, you'll miss highlights like the ghoulish wedding ceremony, or the character with no skin, eerily shown in semi-darkness. And you don't see skinless fellows every day.__

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