Classic horror tale reimagined in CPT’s “Frankenstein’s Wake”
“Frankenstein’s Wake” was odd from the start; it started with performer and creator Holly Holsinger seated in a chair under a lacy shawl, interrupting the chatter of the audience around her and walking around in personal silence before her first monologue.
With Holsinger being the only actress on Cleveland Public Theatre’s Church stage, she found unique ways to fill a cast of characters, whether they were defined by a hat, or a photograph, or clay smeared on her face. Mary Shelley’s novel came to life with her active portrayals, in an unsettling way.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t effective. Holsinger’s command of the stage transformed her into a new character at the flip of a switch. With minimal lighting and sound effects (which were created, live, by a trio of crew members), the context of the play was still clear. Plot wasn’t lost to a lack of actors; if anything, Holsinger’s strong acting brought even clearer distinctions to each individual character than a full cast of actors could have.
Even though it involved a relationship with a free-standing coat rack wearing a wig (also known as Elizabeth, Victor’s love interest), everything was believable in Holsinger’s imaginary world. In the second half of the performance, she revealed that her persona onstage was created by scientist Victor Frankenstein. In her world, Holsinger’s character was the female counterpart to the original monster, having survived Frankenstein’s attempt to destroy her.
Given this context, the loopy action which follows could be attributed to her mysterious origin. “You don’t know what… or who I am, and neither do I,” Holsinger said early on, before the audience discovered her secret.
Switching between her actual character and the characters within the story, the performance’s biggest reveal came when Frankenstein’s monster first emerges from under a table, face covered in clay and bells tied around their neck. When the monster kills Frankenstein’s wife (which took a bit of creative staging), the crew’s live performed ear-piercing shrieks made the audience jump.
Moments of suspense were built up through Holsinger’s mastery, and she gave a sense of sympathy to well-known characters. Though the performance was strange and only got stranger, it proved that even a story as tried and true as “Frankenstein” can be woken up by the right kind of imagination.