Devil’s Milk Trilogy
–review of Goosetown: The Devil’s Milk, Part 2 by Yoly Glez M Heisler — Akron’s ghosts come to light in ‘Devil’s Milk’ open rehearsal (8.17.15)
-review of Death of a Man: The Devil’s Milk, Part 1 by David Ritchey, West Side Leader — NWPL’s ‘Death of a Man’ examines story of rubber (5.21.15)
-review of Death of a Man: The Devil’s Milk, Part 1 by Kerry Clawson, Beacon Journal — ‘Death of a Man’ chronicles atrocities of rubber’s dark past (5.20.15)
-review of Death of a Man: The Devil’s Milk, Part 1 by rdurbin, Knight Blog — Open rehearsal for New World Performance Laboratory’s “The Devil’s Milk Trilogy” generated good audience feedback (4.2.15)
review of ORLANDO by Kerry Clawson, Beacon Journal — Theater review: Gender-bending, thought-provoking ‘Orlando’ at NWPL (8.17.14)
“Original look at ‘Frankenstein’ creator, friends”
Excellent cast at core of dreamy production that demands attention
By Elaine Guregian
I’ve never had a laudanum dream, but after seeing Frankenstein by the New World Performance Laboratory at the University of Akron’s Sandefur Theatre on Saturday, I think I might be able to imagine one. Under the artful direction of James Slowiak, the members of this remarkable ensemble created a dream world, opaque in many ways and yet crisply pointed in its details.
In the space of one hour, with no intermission, they imagined the 19th-century world inhabited by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, played with fierce focus by Megan Elk, and her emotional wreck of a husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (a laudanum fan), played here — along with the dual role of Frankenstein — by Christopher Buck.
Central to the story is the night when friends Percy, Mary, Lord Byron and Byron’s lover, Claire Clairmont, have a contest to write a ghost story — a contest that leads Mary to conceive her famous novel Frankenstein. Bits and pieces from Frankenstein turn up here, along with poetry by Shelley and Lord Byron, journal entries by Mary, and texts that the performers themselves have written into the emotionally high-pitched, lusty script. Mike Geither is credited in the program as dramaturge.
It takes a while to get used to the free-form presentation. The scraps of information you glean from the characters’ comments are revealing, though. When Lord Byron (delightfully foppish, and played with narcissistic glee by Justin Hale) tells Claire, ”You needn’t have brought the ice. Mary can chill the wine,” it’s a reflection both of his cruelty and Mary’s supposedly chilly temperament.
Debora Totti was spirited and unbowed as Claire, Lord Byron’s underappreciated lover. Jairo Cuesta, pale and lithe, was riveting as the Creature. Jamie G. Hale played Elizabeth, whose role in the script was not made sufficiently clear.
This is a daring production in which characters take actual physical risks — or at least, endure discomfort — in playing their parts. Inda Blach-Geib has costumed the characters in magnificently ragged, extroverted style. Blach-Geib provided the effective scenic design as well, placing cabanas at either side of the stage (just a floor) for entrances and exits.
In addition to acting, Elk composed songs for the performance. They have a naive, spooky charm, put across as they are with conviction by the six-member cast.
A hallucinogenic atmosphere charged by excellent acting held together this collaged look at the people behind Frankenstein, but not without some effort from this audience member. A piece of advice, if you go: Read the program notes, which outline the lives of the characters. This background makes it easier — though still not easy — to follow the action.
Frankenstein would benefit from one simple convention, that of having characters address each other by name a few times early on to establish their identities. And yet, I wouldn’t want to suggest much else that might tame this joyfully independent event. New World Performance Laboratory adds high-level innovation to the University of Akron’s lineup of performing arts.
Frankenstein (A De-Monstration)
posted by Village Green
If you live in or around Akron, do not miss this production. New World Performance Laboratory is back with another presentation of their ongoing work, Frankenstein (A De-monstration). Do not expect to see anything conventional, because with this company the conventional is a dry husk that is shed again and again. They are in search of the essential. They don’t “pretend,” they do their actions and in the doing reach the audience in ways we hardly ever experience in the theatre. NWPL’s co-directors are James Slowiak and Jairo Cuesta. We are so fortunate that Akron, Ohio became the home to a theatre whose roots reach directly back to the work of 20th century theatre revolutionary, the Polish Laboratory director Jerzy Grotowski.
In this pieced and stitched together response to Mary Shelley’s work, we are privy to the creation of the monster story and perhaps into the inner workings of the roving band of creative intellects that burst out of the British Isle in the But there are more monsters lurking within the dynamics of the Percy/Mary /Byron relationship and we are taken up by the very breath and heartbeat into the actions. I was very conscious of my own heart pounding as the actions intensified, which had the unusual effect of allying me with the monster. It seemed to me my heart wasn’t my own at that part, and like the monster I could only wonder at the the strange organ beating inside me. It takes an amazing amount of energy and focus to create something so charged with shocking electricity. I could not get over the shoes worn by the cast.
All were wearing the most uncomfortable and unsuitable shoes, except for Frankenstein/Shelley (Chris Buck) and The Creature (Jairo Cuesta) who both were working in bare feet. Lord Byron (Justin Hale) in high heels and The Man (Alex White) in medium heeled pumps worked their change in status to perfection. The Woman (Debora Totti) wore men’s dress shoes, while Mary Shelley (Megan Elk) and Elizabeth (Jamie Hale) wore tortuously high heels. This all added up to heighten the gender issues that swirled around the life and times of Mary Shelley and her comrades in art. The costumes (Inda Geib), lighting (Christ Hariasz) and set (Benjamin Hardin) enhanced the patched-together theme of the material, which could also be a metaphor for the group’s creative process. Material used for this production includes Mary Shelley’s novel and journals, the poetry of Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, Milton, and texts drawn from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, The Rainbow by DH Lawrence and original material written by the actors. There are references to and lines from classic horror films. I was fortunate to see the first rendition of this piece last spring. It has grown tremendously, and yet still has that initial fire and astonishing power that made me want more at the initial viewing. I’m definitely going back for another look this time round. NWPL always delivers masterpieces that reveal more and more the deeper you look into them.