REVIEW (Pulp): Penny Seats’ outdoor production of ‘The Gravedigger’ offers fresh exploration of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story

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David Galido and Robert Schorr in Penny Seats Theatre Company’s West Park production of Joseph Zettlemaier’s “The Gravedigger: A Frankenstein Story.”

Penny Seats Theatre Company’s two-show 2018 summer season — cheekily called “Hail to the Victors” — consists of two different takes on Mary Shelley’s classic horror story. Next month, PSTC will present Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s stage musical adaptation of Brooks’ 1974 film comedy Young Frankenstein, but the company first kicked things off this past weekend with a two-hour production of Joseph Zettelmaier’s The Gravedigger, directed by Julia Glander and Lauren M. London.

The story takes place in the 1700s, and begins as Victor Frankenstein (Daniel A. Helmer) is purchasing body parts from a drunk, limping gravedigger named Kurt (Robert Schorr) — but this is merely a preface to the main story, which is focused on the creature Victor creates with these pieces.

This monster, who gives himself the name Anton (David Galido), seeks nothing but death in Kurt’s graveyard, but instead finds unexpected friendships — both with Kurt and an outcast gypsy named Nadya (Annie Dilworth). By digging for Kurt by night, Anton starts to imagine, for the first time in his short life, how he might forge an existence that features both companionship and moments of joy. But when Victor comes looking to destroy Anton — who, when immediately abandoned by his horrified maker at his “birth,” angrily murdered all the people Victor loved — the two must each face the consequences of their actions, in the form of each other.

Penny Seats’ summer productions happen outdoors, in Ann Arbor’s West Park (in front of the band shell) — and perhaps not surprisingly, some plays succeed more in this setting than others. The Gravedigger, particularly as night falls, works better than most. Yes, part of that is due to Tyler Chinn’s lovely lighting design (which obviously becomes more critical in the final scenes), and Will Myers’ sound design — three cheers for good mics and a well-calibrated sound system, so we can hear the dialogue! — but it’s also because, given the story’s historic horror vibe, The Gravedigger ends up achieving the feel of a ghost story told ’round the campfire. (Just remember to bring a blanket or jacket along; the temperature drops pretty dramatically with the sun.) READ THE REST HERE

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