Written by Mac Rogers
Directed by Jordana Williams
Presented by Gideon Productions
June 13—30, 2013
The Secret Theatre
4402 23rd St, Long Island City, NY
Words can turn on you, or be turned to your purpose; literary classics keep meaning something to us when they mean something different for us. Frankenstein Upstairs repurposes Mary Shelley’s historic text in the new context of recovery — a word that’s spun in this production too, between the emotional rebirth which is no exact science and the macabre reanimation the original narrative is known for.
Shelley’s original Victor Frankenstein was a broken link from the human family, a self-isolated genius who could have expanded the community of the living but instead severs his creation and himself. The characters of Mac Rogers’ heartbreaking, hilarious play are reconstructing themselves — a pair of lovers and colleagues, Sophie and Marisol, starting a new internet business; their client, Taylor, an author who is preparing to come out from behind his popular pseudonym; and Victoria Frankenstein, a descendant of the doctor (a real person in this play’s world) who’s trying to define herself with her accomplishments and also attempting, well, you know.
Sophie and Marisol are coming apart like the scattered components of a once-cohesive person, and both Marisol and her best friend Taylor are still emerging from abused pasts. “Vic” Frankenstein is the upstairs neighbor who keeps making the power go out but befriends the other three. Taylor and Vic each seem to reinforce that which in Sol and Sophie respectively most makes the other not stand her girlfriend, but everyone’s reasons are well respected by the script — Vic is an elevated but isolated intellect insinuating into the younger women’s lives, significantly not a secret contender to undo death’s effects so much as a sad aspirant to real life; Taylor at one point departs from his uproarious mischief and sass to confide to Sol how she showed him the strength to leave an abusive boyfriend, in a testament to the true meaning of being brought back to life.
Sophie is addicted to charts and diagrams as the two lovers’ business stirs into existence; unforeseeable variables are introduced by tragic accidents which you should find out for yourself (the play’s got three more days as I type this), but suffice it to say that Rogers realizes that a monster-movie needs some victims and in the true-life monstrosity of domestic violence, not everyone who deserves to gets saved.
Autumn Dornfeld is incandescent as the controlling but easily inundated Sophie, Diana Oh irresistible as the wounded but indomitable Sol, Rob Maitner incendiary as the trash-talking and sage Taylor, and Kristen Vaughan gives what may be the performance of the year as the righteous,
tentative Vic, a dominating personality whose oppressive but sincere love of people — as abstractions, not equals, and as possessions, not gifts — is high tragedy and everyday living loss, a role that could have been rigid cliche but unfolds as everything we recognize and fear about the world and its limits.
Rogers’ panoptically astute ear picks up contemporary expression and puts things together in the most novel ways — in his speakers’ mouths and in his choice of thematic crossovers. Vic thinks there is an equation that can make everyone’s good intentions and impulsive desires even up, with her outside help. But people have to find their way together, from discoveries they share. On stage and in each day, no formula will work.