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Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat
Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)

Mesmerizing descent into madness

Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Grief ain't pretty.

The older you get, the harder the death of a loved one is to endure. Recently, my uncle's sudden death brought out not only sadness, but frustration and flat-out boiling anger I thought I'd abandoned long ago. For those of us who don't respond well to hugging, crying and praying - all very legitimate ways to deal - grief is, to put it mildly, a raging bitch.

Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)
Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)
The protagonist of Lifeline's Frankenstein is deep in the throes of grief herself. Intelligent university student Victoria (Ann Sonneville) is thrown for the ultimate loop after the loss of her beloved father. As this is the nineteenth century, Victoria can't turn to therapy, exercise or antidepressants. (And let's face it, most people these days still don't, but the state of mental health in our country is a whole other rant.) Feeling isolated and increasingly manic, she forsakes her studies, remaining family members and loyal friends to build a creature. The results are devastating, terrifying and, to both Victoria and the audience, ultimately rewarding.

Lifeline's adaptation of Frankenstein is the first of four that will open in Chicago this season. Both Remy Bumppo and Manual Cinema (i/a/w Court Theatre) will debut productions this fall as well, with a Lookingglass Theatre take to premiere in May. All have promised different versions of Mary Shelley's classic, written when Shelley was only 18 and thought to be the first-ever science fiction novel. Lifeline's Frankenstein, a world premiere adapted by Robert Kauzlaric and directed by Paul S. Holmquist, boils down the war of human versus monster in a way that's deceptively simple and alarmingly universal.

You see, Victoria is battling herself.

Watching a character basically have a mental breakdown is thoroughly uncomfortable, just as it should be. Kauzlaric and Holmquist never take the easy way out with a stereotypical "crazy lady" narrative. Victoria may be wild-eyed, often babbling to her bemused siblings and obsessively collecting her father's talismans, but she doesn't run around crying and screaming. In truth, she may have had emotional struggles long before her father's passing. As Shelley herself could probably have testified, being a smart young woman in a society that only expected marriage and babies from its "fairer sex" was challenging on a good day. Still, it's refreshing to see a sensitive, complex female protagonist in a period piece who isn't breaking down because of a broken relationship or anything baby-related. Even in 2018, most main characters dealing with their feelings are primarily young, white men. This Frankenstein breaks the mold, in this way and many others.

Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)
Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)

Fear not, horror buffs: the Monster is very much present, in the form of Cynthia Von Orthal's uncanny Valley-esque life-sized puppet. He's strangely articulate, simultaneously appealing to Victoria's crushing loneliness and berating her for torturing him with their collective existence. Aside from one problematic moment involving the Monster beating Victoria - come on, we already know she's hurting inside, a creature with a deep masculine voice doesn't need to whoop and victim-blame her to prove a point - their relationship is a fascinating battle of wits. For most of this Frankenstein , it looks like Victoria will not survive physically or emotionally. Like many cycling through Kubler Ross's stages of grief, she's in deep denial, then bargaining with her very life to bring her beloved father back. In this Frankenstein , the heroine, already an outsider before death plunges her into madness, must save herself. And the audience, captivated from beginning to end, can't help but hope she'll see the light.

Frankenstein continues through October 28th at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays and Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 4pm. Tickets are $40 (seniors and military: $30, students w/ ID: $20) and are available by phone (773-761-4477) or online through (check for availability of ). More information at (Running time: 90 minutes without intermission)

Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)
Review: Frankenstein (Lifeline Theatre)

Photos by Suzanne Plunkett

Ann Sonneville (Victoria), Chris Hainsworth (Alphonse), Risha Tenae (Catherine), Ty Carter (Erich), Rasika Ranganathan (Helena), Emily Ayre (Justine), Trent Davis (William)

Understudies: Julie Partyka , Xander Senechal, Lauren Grace Thompson

behind the scenes

Paul S. Holmquist (director), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Barry Bennett (original music, sound design), Emily Hartig (props design), Greg Poljacik (violence design), Becky Bishop (stage manager), Joe Schermoly (scenic & properties design), Jordan Kardasz (lighting design), Cynthia Von Orthal (puppet design), Maren Robinson (dramaturg), Anna Jones (assistant stage manager), Suzanne Plunkett (photos)

Tags: 18-0928, Ann Sonneville, Anna Jones, Barry Bennett, Becky Bishop, Chicago Theater, Chris Hainsworth, Cynthia Von Orthal, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Emily Ayre, Emily Hartig, Frankenstein, Greg PolJacik, Izumi Inaba, Joe Schermoly, Jordan Kardasz, Julie Partyka, Lauren Emily Whalen, Lauren Grace Thompson, Lifeline Theatre, Maren Robinson, Mary Shelley, Paul S. Holmquist, post, Rasika Ranganathan, Risha Tenae, Robert Kauzlaric, Suzanne Plunkett, Trent Davis, Ty Carter, Xander Senechal

Category: 2018 Reviews, Adaptation, Lauren Emily Whalen, Lifeline Theatre, New Work, World Premier

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