You’ll excuse a brief personal interlude, I want to mention how fun it is to review theater in Utah, where I can see the broad musical farce “Frankenstein’s Bride, or The Girl of My Screams” on Friday and the mature British comedy/drama “The Memory of Water” on Saturday.
If there are two more opposite plays — indeed, two more opposite theaters than the Desert Star Playhouse and Salt Lake Acting Company — I haven’t heard of them.
And yet, from their opposite ends of the theatrical spectrum, “Frankenstein’s Bride” and “The Memory of Water” are both excellent shows. They achieve different goals but are both enjoyable nights out at the theater, even if one does have far more singing monsters than the other.
“Frankenstein’s Bride” is the first of several Halloween-appropriate shows in Utah this year, and almost certainly the funniest. It employs the Desert Star’s stock-and-trade song parodies, outrageous puns and general mayhem to great effect. It is a testament to the theater’s consistency that it has become commonplace to say a show there is highly entertaining, very fun and well worth the price.
The story takes place 15 years after the familiar Frankenstein tale. Mad scientist Dr. Polvard (Ed Farnsworth) now inhabits the Frankenstein castle, assisted by Frau Braunholder (Kathleen Richardson) and Hans (Scott Holman, also the director).
A Frankenstein heir, Victor (Steven Fehr), wants to move into the castle with his new bride (Holly Braithwaite). But first, Polvard revives the former tenant’s creation (Jack Drayton), now a rather gentle monster in search of a mate. Destined to be his bride is Juliana (Kerstin Anderson), the blind daughter of a local pub owner (Spencer Ashby).
Most of the songs this time around are parodies of showtunes. The funniest sequence has Dr. Polvard skipping through his little German town, visiting his body-parts supplier and other simple folk in a gruesome parody of the “Good morning, Belle!” scene from “Beauty and the Beast.”
There are several deft touches, most of which I won’t spoil for you. When someone tells the monster that someday he will find the perfect mate, and they will be “made for each other,” two other characters verbally identify that as “foreshadowing.” Later, a character falls to his death — but only after asking the audience members in the front row to move aside so he has someplace to fall.
‘The Memory of Water’
Things are much more urbane uptown at Salt Lake Acting Company. This theater also fills an important niche: theater that is sophisticated but not stuffy. (Indeed, one sees a lot more pretension in the audience at SLAC than on the stage.)
The current offering, Shelagh Stephenson’s award-winning “The Memory of Water,” examines the effect a mother can have on her children, and the subtle ways our upbringing is reflected in our personalities.
Three sisters have come together for their mother’s funeral. At the center is Mary (Teri Cowan), a doctor who is probably the most well-adjusted of the siblings, except for being in a five-year relationship with a married man (Paul Kiernan). Filling the martyrous I-had-to-take-care-of-Mom-on-her-deathbed role is Teresa (Joyce Cohen), a health-food nut with little patience for frivolity. And the young, carefree, pot-smoking sister is Catherine (Melissa Gessel).
There are laugh-out-loud moments, particularly in the first act, when we learn that Teresa’s phone call to Mary to inform her of their mother’s death began with “Guess what?” Mary, especially, has a tart tongue and a way of turning a phrase; she notes that someone who allegedly had been sick was seen at a club, “hopping around the dance floor like a bag of ferrets.”
The second act is much more serious, as skeletons are forced out of their closets and all three sisters come to terms with the impact their mother had on them. To the extent that such a revelation — parents imprint themselves on their kids — is not exactly earth-shattering is the play’s weakness; it would seem we were meant to be impressed with that discovery, when in fact it is rather obvious.
The acting is superb, however, across the board. It is truly a theatrical piece, with no special effects or set changes. Just human beings, talking, bickering and laughing at real life, but in a manner more appealing than most of our real lives.
Should you go? “Frankenstein’s Bride” is goofy, silly family entertainment at its finest; “The Memory of Water” is insightfully well-acted and intelligent, not to mention entertaining.
I couldn't resist the fun in combining these opposite shows into one review.
But there were other factors afoot: Both shows are in Salt Lake City, which makes them of less interest to Daily Herald readers (well, of less interest to Daily Herald editors, anyway, who THINK the readers never go to Salt Lake). So I couldn't devote a lot of space to full-length reviews. Furthermore, it is hard to find much to say about a Desert Star show. They're fun, you laugh, you go home. All in all, it worked best to discuss the plays this way, in a manner that was concise and, I hope, enjoyable to read.