Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Mary Shelly's Frankenstein
Quintessence Theatre Group
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Rebecca's review of Such Things as Vampires

Michael Zlabinger and Jake Blouch
Photo by Mark Garvin
One of the scariest moments in Quintessence Theatre's season opener Mary Shelly's Frankenstein happens as soon as you walk into the theater and learn that the run-time is a daunting three and a half hours. Can a play whose basic plot is so familiar keep the audience engaged for that long? Does the suspense of a gothic horror story grow tiresome after hour number three? Thanks to a stellar cast, top notch scenic design, and a well placed faith in Mary Shelly's original narrative, Alex Burns' dark new adaptation is a thoroughly engrossing, occasionally hilarious, and ultimately disturbing take on the classic monster tale.

The story begins and ends with Captain Walton voyaging toward the North Pole on a quest for scientific knowledge and personal glory. Walton and his crew spot a monstrous figure riding a dog sled on the frozen water and soon after rescue Victor Frankenstein from the icy arctic. Recognizing his own tendency toward obsession in the strong-willed Captain, Victor decides to relay the details of his own sordid tale. Starting with his idyllic childhood in Naples and Geneva, Victor describes an enviable upbringing staunched by his mother's untimely death. That death leads Victor to a frenzied study of chemistry and other natural sciences at the University. There he discovers the secret to reanimating dead organisms using electricity. Victor gives life to a creature formed by sewing body parts together, but he is instantly terrified and disgusted by its heinous form.

Michael Zlabinger is fantastically creepy as brilliant, obsessive, self-centered, and melodramatic Victor Frankenstein. The infinitely charming Hannah Wolff brings a satisfying depth to her role as Victor's adopted sister and betrothed Elizabeth. Lee Cortopassi stands out for his humor and earnest enthusiasm as jocund best friend Clerval, but it is Jake Blouch's turn as the unnamed monster that steals the show. Blouch transitions seamlessly from childlike confusion to malicious evil (simultaneously garnering sympathy and disgust), masterfully embodying the uncanny essence of gothic horror. Blouch narrates most of the second act from the monster's perspective and it is tremendous.

Burns' script gives the ensemble a lot of evocative prose to work with and his direction leaves room for plenty of humor in between the lines. It is also remarkably true to the original novel in language, tone and plot. This authenticity serves the production well because the original is marvelously strange and more morally ambiguous than many of the alternative versions that have followed. However, the scenes on captain Walton's boat and the long, florid descriptions of the landscapes are unnecessary and drag down the pace of the otherwise brisk production.

Brian Sidney Bembridge's dramatic lighting and stark set designs provide a sinister edge. The use of a translucent hospital curtain separating the upstage and downstage areas is particularly effective. Not only does the partially obscured view create an unsettling sense of uncertainty, it is also a powerful symbol of the thin, blurry line between ourselves and the evil things we could so easily become.

Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, through October 21, 2018, at the Quintessence Theatre Group's Sedgwick Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia PA. For tickets call the box office at 215-987-4450 or visit

Robert Walton: Lee Cortopassi
Victor Frankenstein: Michale Zlabinger
Alphonse Frankenstein: Kevin Bergen
Caroline Frankenstein: Leah Gabriel
Ernest Frankenstein: Brenden Dahl
William Frankenstein: Coralie Lyford
Elizabeth Lavenza: Hannah Wolff
Henry Clerval: Lee Cortopassi
Justine Moritz: Leah Gabriel
The Monster: Jake Blouch
De Lacey: Kevin Bergen
Felix: Lee Cortopassi
Agatha: Hannah Wolf
Safie: Leah Gabriel

Direction: Alex Burns
Lighting and Set Design: Brian Sidney Bembridge
Costume Design: Jane Casanave
Original Music and Sound Design: Daniel Ison
Special Effects: Curtis Coyote
Fight Direction: J. Alex Cordaro