When you walk into the theatre for Four Larks' "Frankenstein," there's an eerie harpsichord playing in the background and you see shelves of old curiosities: skulls, globes and hourglasses, parts of old mannequins — and lots of tiny cages. It's creepy but it's also gorgeous: lit with an amber incandescent glow.
You know you're in for a treat and the show hasn't even begun.
"Frankenstein" is a play but it's also a concert, and at moments an opera, at others a musical and a dance piece. Imagine if some theatre nerds befriended some classically trained musicians at the home of an installation artist who happened to be a choreographer — and then they made a show.
"Frankenstein" is all of that.
You'll recognize the story in a literary way, not in a monster movie way. As the show begins, we're somewhere in the blustery, snowy north. A Victorian explorer is singing about his desire for a particular type of immortality when he stumbles upon our fated scientist whose Frankenstein creation haunts him. There's a tale to tell so off we go, back to where the story begins.
The story unfolds across three acts and 75 minutes: a coming of age tale that feels like it could fit in a Victorian novel; then a section on the deeply sympathetic creation himself — watching the monster discover humanity; and for the final act, the creature's revenge.
Then things get even darker and visually stunning. As the creature demands a companion, the production turns to a bit of projection magic that's visually and aurally breathtaking — and terrifying in equal measure.
"Frankenstein" is a major work and a major leap for Four Larks. It's a jump from being a self-producing company to being supported and presented by a well-funded presenting house like The Wallis. That's a big deal.
But even more significant are the leaps in the work itself. When I first saw the company in a warehouse on the edge of downtown in 2014, you could see all the elements of this work: the striking visual aesthetic, the classically trained technique, the unique orchestrations and a mixture of opera and new folk accessibility. All the pieces were there but they were, to borrow from "Frankenstein," like distinct body parts: the orchestra was over there, the actors over here; here's the theatre, there's the dance. In "Frankenstein" they've brought it all together. The seven-piece orchestra is an integral part of the acting of the piece. The lines between musician, actor, and dancer are blurred, if not erased entirely. And even more importantly, Four Larks have found the darkness in their work. Where there earlier pieces lacked a gravitas, “Frankenstein” will punch you in the gut.
It's exciting to see a company break through and grow.
The most frightening thing? You don't want to be haunted by missing this show.
"Frankenstein" plays at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills through Sunday, March 7th.