A Ginormous experiment haunts the MCA
The Hypocrites: Frankenstein at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is a ginormous experiment. Chicago’s avant-garde director Sean Graney reanimates a 200-year-old novel, along with countless mutations, into a four-character 75-minute production.
Attendees must come to terms with their participation in the experiment as soon as they enter the MCA theater: They must walk past the theater seats, for they are not used in this production, into the backstage where dozens of amputated, disembodied, blood-smeared dolls hang upside down from the ceiling. Pages of Mary Shelley’s 19th Century novel, Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus are plastered all over the back wall.
The Hypocrites attempt to stitch Shelley’s 19th Century novel, and all its adaptations, into the same fabric. Dr. Viktor Frankenstein’s creation, the grotesque monster, Frankenstein, performed by Matt Kahler, frustrated in his isolation from the rest of society, desires a companion for himself. Although his quest for happiness constitutes a universal human desire, the production lacks the deeply affective character identification found in Shelley’s novel. That kind of emotional weight and subjective reflectivity might only be possible in literary form, or in the hands of a master like William Shakespeare. Shelley fans beware: At times entire chapters of the novel are reduced to a brief monologue by the monster; Nevertheless, Kahler’s performance, although often powerful, finds its limitations in the script. The novel merely provides the skeleton for the promenade-style production. Stage and seating are indistinguishable. Both actors and audience will have to move around the space. Given the task of keeping time and having to engage the mobile audience, the performers, including Stacy Stolz as Elisabeth and John Byrnes as Dr. Frankenstein, move around the room fully confident and engaged in their roles. The dialogue, however, becomes weak and unless one is willing to stalk or trail behind the performers, a lot is missed.
The 1931 black-and-white film adaption of the same, is also projected on stitched-up sheets above the bloody bed where the monsters come to life. On a few occasions the film is replayed from a remote control, scenes of which are not memorable enough to be retold. The production not only appropriates fragments, either visual or narrative, from previous cultures but also with more contemporary recognizable elements. It either humorously combines horrific popular culture adaptations of Frankenstein, or alternatively, in its pastiches, it includes elements of the ghastly and humorous popular culture adaptations. Sometimes it is not clear which one is at play; the ambiguity between the whimsical and the gruesome at points begins to border on satire. These older cultural specimens blend in with contemporary cultural–in a very postmodern fashion—including a digital clock showing current time placed next to the bed, a record player that plays some moody electronic music and a dorm-style hamper used as a wedding-dress. For all we know there are elements in the room taken from a cartoon network adaptation. After all, why those bloody dolls hang from the ceiling is never understood. It appears as if all these elements attempt to compensate for the lack of cohesion, from the lack of power in the rest of the production.
The Hypocrites’ strength lies in recognizing that the original novel cannot exist in a vacuum. After all, how we read Shelley today cannot be detached of the countless representations of Frankenstein in popular culture, however, the stitching is too loose to hold through the post-Halloween-themed entertainment season.