Frankenstein’s Family Happens to Be Black
Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein presented by London’s National Theatre Live has been playing at encore screenings all over the country, including LA’s very own Downtown Independent movie theatre. The last time I’d been to this theatre, it was still the ambitious and idealistic ImaginAsian Center, a place I thought would be our own venue for watching hard to find films that featured Asian/Asian American filmmakers and talent. Unfortunately, that didn’t last very long.
Having no idea what to expect, “the encore screening” of Frankenstein is actually a filmed version of the live stage show of the sold out National Theatre production in which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller alternate the roles of the Monster and Dr. Victor Frankenstein. The play is Nick Dear’s new stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. The Olivier winning work of both actors is what drew me initially, and I was reminded how theatre is truly the actor’s medium and film is the director’s. Johnny Lee Miller’s physical work, articulation of language and the use of his tongue alone is mesmerizing as the Monster. He had a two hour trail of spittle dangling from his chin that was its own character.
The stage production was hailed as electrifying but as for watching the play as a movie, director Danny Boyle artfully frames the stage and attempts to recreate the experience for you, but really it’s hard to capture live theatre. However, since this is my best option for experiencing the production at all, I’m not complaining too hard. The full audience clapped afterwards during the curtain call and as you might in an actual live production, clapped more for encore bows. It makes me wonder if we’ve become so adept at making connection through technology that this might be a new wave of watching theatre remotely? And given the option of not seeing it at all or seeing it in some capacity, I vote for the latter.
Boyle’s music score by Underworld is pitch perfect for me as was the Trainspotting soundtrack. Love me some 90s.
What I was unpredictably struck by in the production was the color blind casting of Victor’s father, little brother William and fiance Elizabeth, played by black actors George Harris, Haydon Downing/William Nye/Jared Richard and Naomie Harris, respectively.
Danny Boyle is miles ahead when it comes to diverse casting (see cast of Sunshine). The non traditional casting is actually a little jarring at first, because even I’ve become so accustomed to traditional casting that I was initially wondering, “Whaaa? Why is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dad black? Was he adopted? Is one of the whitest actors alive supposed to be mulatto?” Well, the truth is you just never see this kind of interracial casting in professional *theatre or EVER. So, hats off to Danny Boyle for consistently making “bold” choices in the way he paints the world. In the Asian American world, after Slumdog Millionaire, my running joke was that “Indian” was the new black (in casting.)
If you get a chance to see an encore screening, I’m curious if you think the live play experience translates as a film? The dark themes of the play are highly salient, most notably, the monster’s discovery that in order to become a man, he learns to hate, humiliate and destroy others. Hmmm, sadly, sounds just about right to me….
In doing a little research on the play, I came across this wonderful English networking site for Artists called IdeasTap and this blog page, giving sound advice to actors and those wanting to become casting directors.
* Over the past five years, African Americans were cast in 13.2% of all available roles, Latinos in 3.5% and Asian Americans in 2.3%.
· Asian Americans were the only major minority group to see their numbers go down, from 3 percent five years ago to 1 percent in the 08/09 and 09/10 seasons, with a slight uptick to 2 percent this past season.
· Asian Americans were the least likely of all major minority groups to play roles that were not racially-specific.
Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein Trailer: