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Entertainment & Arts

Review: In ‘Frankenstein’ at A Noise Within, a harrowing performance pulses with humanity

The Creature (Michael Manuel) finds a rare moment of tenderness with his creator’s bride (Erika Soto) in “Frankenstein” at A Noise Within.
The Creature (Michael Manuel) finds a rare moment of tenderness with his creator’s bride (Erika Soto) in “Frankenstein” at A Noise Within.
(Craig Schwartz)

“I should be Adam — God was proud of Adam,” seethes the Creature at the center of a strikingly literate and deeply philosophical “Frankenstein” playing in Pasadena at A Noise Within. Citing “Paradise Lost” in rebuke to the rogue scientist who created and then abandoned him three years earlier, the Creature identifies instead with the biblical fallen angel: “For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong.”

Sigh. It’s always the parents’ fault, no?

Still, not many juvenile delinquents quote Milton to justify a murderous rampage. Such is the potent mix of horror and eloquence that drives playwright Nick Dear’s 2011 adaptation, which rescues Mary Shelley’s creation from the stereotypes of innumerable grunting, lumbering movie monsters.

In Michael Manuel’s harrowing performance, this Creature has a legitimate grievance against his creator, Victor Frankenstein (Kasey Mahaffy). A nearly silent, impressively choreographed extended opening traces the Creature’s “birth” in a state of childlike innocence, and the abuse he endures — first from the fleeing Victor and then from the horrified populace when he ventures into an unfamiliar world.

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Granted, Victor’s clumsy stitch-work leaves much to be desired in the looks department — credit Angela Santori and Shannon Hutchins for suitably gruesome makeup that still allows Manuel to display the Creature’s wounded humanity.

‘The Skin of Our Teeth,’ Thornton Wilder’s too-little-seen 1942 play about human resilience, gets a breezy revival by Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum.

After a crash course in literature, science and philosophy under the tutelage of a blind professor (Harrison White), the Creature’s fiercely articulate self-awareness is the crowning achievement of Manuel’s fine performance.

As Victor, Mahaffy is credibly stuck-up and callous, much to the frustration of his long-suffering fiancée (an excellent Erika Soto), who ironically makes a deeper emotional connection with the Creature. Mahaffy doesn’t completely sell the scientist’s amoral hubris, however, and the parallels between Creature and creator are not fully realized.

This is the first California staging of Dear’s adaptation, though it may be familiar to some viewers through frequent screenings of the original National Theatre Live production directed by Danny Boyle and starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch.

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Michael Michetti’s staging offers a more intimate take, with less reliance on special effects wizardry. It’s a visually striking production nonetheless, making inventive use of scenic designer François-Pierre Couture’s modular reflective panels and square wooden beams to change locales.

In a concession to tamer sensibilities, the production cuts some nudity from the script, as well as a shocking though pivotal sexual assault. Nevertheless, fans of Shelley’s gothic novel will appreciate how elegantly the show streamlines its principal plot points and characters, and how it illuminates the enduring scientific, medical and ethical questions so presciently posed by its 19-year-old author more than two centuries ago.

'Frankenstein'
Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 8
Tickets: $25-$86
Info: (626) 356-3121, anoisewithin.org
Running time: 2 hours

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