Monday, February 2, 2015

Frankenstein Reborn


If you've been paying attention to this blog -- and in this one instance, if in no other, you should -- you know that I think that local actor Josh Hitchens is a living cultural treasure.  Since 2011, he's been writing and putting on a series of one-man performances ranging of Dracula, Sleepy Hollow, Jeffrey Dahmer and other dark classics.

So when it was announced that he would be performing his own abridgment of Frankenstein at the Mütter Museum (one of the world's foremost collections of medical anomalies) for one night only, it seemed a match made in some dark heaven.  I bought tickets immediately, which was a good thing because the show, predictably, sold out quickly.

Museum Director Robert D. Hicks opened the evening with a nineteenth-century lecture (in period costume) on electricity and the human body.  Having heard many medical presentations in my time, I can attest that it was tone-perfect:  Informative, lucid, straightforward, modest -- and, as medical history has since proved, wrong in many respects.

Hitchens then took over, presenting a Frankenstein with the Hollywood's additions scraped off, one that began in the Arctic wastes, revealed the self-deluding nature of Victor's ambitions, and presented the Creature with horror and unalloyed sympathy.  I cannot be the only person to leave the evening determined to reread Mary Shelley's masterpiece as soon as possible.

Josh Hitchens' performance was, as always, absolutely compelling.  By limiting the audience to a small enough number that nobody was ever peering over anybody else's shoulder, he was able to connect more viscerally with us all.  We were all caught in the magnetic field of his performance, and it was almost impossible to look away.  There in the liminal space where acting and storytelling overlap something special occurs. It's an experience unlike any other.

Frankenstein was performed in a number of rooms within the Mütter, making the museum itself almost a second performer.  Victor Frankenstein becomes more monstrous when he is explaining his ambitions while standing alongside a display case containing the skeleton of Siamese twins.  His creation seems far more plausible presented in the context of Nineteenth Century medicine.

It was a wonderfully gothic evening.  Let's hope the Mütter Museum sponsors it again someday.  If it does, I'll be sure to let you know.

Above (text): Before you call me on an error, allow me to stipulate that I consider Josh Hitchen's Jeffrey Dahmer something of an instant classic.  You would too, had you seen it.


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