Found Stages, one of Atlanta’s newer theatres, is presenting “Frankenstein’s Funeral,” an “immersive Halloween experience” at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Druid Hills, running through Nov. 3.
Ever since Mary Shelley published her novel in 1818, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his “creature” has captured the public imagination, first as a Gothic story of the Romantic movement, and later on film, starting with director James Whale’s 1931 classic version, with Boris Karloff as The Monster.
Found Stages’ version takes audiences on an emotional and physical journey through Mary Shelley’s imagination: It is an intimate experience of 75 minutes, with only 40 audience members per show. But what ambience! The Great Hall and antechambers of St. John’s, seemingly lit (Charles Swift) by candles and torches (okay, not literally, but it’s dim and atmospheric), are perfect for this subject matter. It reminds me of the great houses in early horror films.
And the fortunate audience members become part of the performance, for we travel: sometimes upstairs, sometimes from room to room, and briefly outside. And our guides, of course, are the actors, in elaborate, opulent period costumes (by Jennifer Schottstaedt). There is an original musical score by Chris Gravely; it combines live music layered over recorded sound; and there are magical special effects, and holograms.
A team of 26 Atlanta artists have spent more than a year creating this show—I think that may be a record—and it shows. From the moment you enter the church, no detail is left to chance; the first thing you see as you enter the Great Hall is The Monster (Joseph Jong Pendergrast), completely wrapped, lying on a slab, and not yet alive!
Then Mary Shelley herself (Jennifer Schottstaedt) introduces the proceedings and gives us the necessary exposition. She is followed by Victor Frankenstein (Jake Krakovsky), who with clarity and precise diction (which I always appreciate) starts the main action of the play. The audience adjourns upstairs where we have a “God’s eye” view of the creation of life—not an everyday occurrence.
I’ve always been on the side of The Monster, who in Shelley’s novel tells Victor, “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel.” He knows that others view him as a creature, monster, or wretch. But he argues that as a living being he has a right to happiness—and that means a partner, a Bride (Dane LeAnna). Mr. Pendergrast’s Monster, by the way, is quite wonderful.
So in “Frankenstein’s Funeral” this Monster not only learns to talk well and dance (!), he gets his Bride, and I can’t give you too many details. Other actors include Michelle Pokopak as Elizabeth Lavenza; Erika Miranda as Justine Moritz; and a hologram appearance by Joshua Whitman as the Ghost of Young William.
The director is Nichole Palmietto; playwright credit is given to Neeley Gossett, Annie Harrison Elliott, Addae Moon, and Ms. Palmietto. The choreographer (the Bride’s Ballet is a highlight!) is Angela Harris; fight directors are Amelia Fischer and Connor Hammond. If you go, and I hope you do, remember that you must move around a bit in the spooky halls of St. John’s; you may also be asked to vocally respond.
I cannot stress too much that the mise en scène is incomparable; so is the ambience. The “Funeral” may not be dramatically compelling in a traditional way, but an immersive, theatrical experience it is.
I’ve always found the Frankenstein story a bit sad, so I shall end by quoting from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Adonais” (these lines are on the program—which is a collector’s item—get one): “He will awake no more, oh, never more! Within the twilight chamber spreads apace the shadow of white death…”
For tickets and information, visit foundstages.org.