1/20/2021 HER LAST EXPEDITION Synchronicity Theatre’s Stripped Bare Project
BASED ON A SUPPOSEDLY UNTRUE SORY
(Bias Alert: I have often worked with and am friends with Actor Bob Smith and have always viewed his work through approval-tinted glasses.)
“Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man’s death is needed to consummate the series of my being and accomplish that which must be done, but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe. (…) Farewell.”
He sprang from the cabin-window as he said this, upon the ice raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.
Such was the icy doom of one of literature’s most memorable monsters, the “unholy” creation of Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein.
But was it the end? And was he only the product of an opium-fueled imagination or was there a germ of truth in her tale?
Meet Margaret, explorer and dreamer, preparing (with her partner Edie) for one last expedition – the quest for the frozen remains of Frankenstein’s monster. And meet Percy, Edie’s son, the voice of reason to their Quixotic tilt at a frozen windmill. Such is the conceit of Daphne Mintz’s psychological thriller, Her Last Expedition, the second entry in Synchronicity’s current Stripped Bare series.
Because this was a one-night only Zoom recording, spoilers are irrelevant. I shall nonetheless endeavor to avoid them, as this is a crackerjack script filled with plot twists that are a joy to watch unfold. It deserves a full post-pandemic staging, and perhaps will one day wend its way back into our theatre-going lives. To avoid said spoilers, this essay shall eschew my usual plot recap, and will instead focus on thoughts and motifs that occurred to me as I was watching last night’s video.
The elephant in the room (so to speak) is the new president’s inaugural address, highlighting our national antipathy toward respect for facts, for reality. It was an address too recent to NOT resonate in my mind-filter of new works and ideas. Frankenstein was, of course, a work of fiction, as has been shown ever since its composition. And yet, Margaret and Edie have documents, maps, “original” letters not included in Ms. Shelley’s work. Are they real or are they fabrications? How is a contemporary “fact-checker” expected to validate or dispute their accuracy? How are we today expected to validate or dispute the accuracy of the latest Facebook Rant or Twitter meme or “Analog News” article?
Dr. Frankenstein’s work, of course, has no scientific validity and becomes less and less credible as our body of knowledge increases. But science, even empirical rational science, can be affected by bias, by conjecture, by leaps of logic that defy critical thinking, leaps that are sometimes validated by observation and maverick experiment. Can we deny the validity of the creature when a new “Modern Prometheus” is discovered living and breathing among us?
Given the penchant for Margaret and Edie to live out their flights of fancy, can an argument be made that Percy does not really exist, but is a product of their shared delusions? After all, there is that keyboard player in the up-left corner who provides the underscore to their story, to their expedition preparations. To us, he is there and real. Is he equally there and real to the women? If not, how can we describe Percy as anything but an image, an avatar, a shadow floating on wall of this particularly icy cave?
Someone states early in the play that “all science fiction is based on reality.” Is this the philosophical center of the play, or merely a contrivance to help us accept the reality of the situation, accept the possibility that maybe, just maybe Margaret’s “last expedition” is rooted in reality?
The original Frankenstein is very clear about the role of “The Monster,” about the role of the scientist who plays God. A more ambivalent argument is made here – the “creator” is motivated not by seeking a longed-for victory over death, but by a more primal need to save a child at any cost. And, apropos of everything, can it be truly called “Godlike” if the process is discoverable (and repeatable) through observation and experimentation?
In any case, the homage to Frankenstein is made complete as the explorers say farewell, and head out into the arctic night to fulfill their quest, which, just may be the same quest that drove Dr. Frankenstein’s creation into his (its?) own literary ice storm.
I have to confess to finding the format of this production a bit “less than,” in that it was taped in one apparent take from the back of the house. We are denied close-up access to the actors’ faces, to the immediate intimacy of witnessing the thoughts behind the eyes. And this is such an intimate piece, dependent on how the three characters relate, so any real ensemble feel, so critical to a full enjoyment of the story and its cornucopia of ideas, is lost. It has been my experience, beginning at the start of the Videotape era, that recording a production does not recreate the experience of witnessing it live. Pixels and sound bytes can never hope to replace the validity and accuracy of flesh-and-blood faces or acoustically fine-tuned dialogue. The irony is that a socially separate Zoom Windows approach would have given us a more compelling ensemble than taping the actors together on stage.
That being said, Her Last Expedition was well-staged by director Pamela Turner (with some clever lighting and sound ideas filtering through the camera), and well-performed by Sharon Mathis (Margaret), Nicole Swanson (Edie), and Bob Smith (Percy). On-Stage musician and composer Mark Swanson was spot-on, with all of his (semi-improvised) score coming at the perfect evocative moments, and all of his silences building the tension and suggesting the freezing chill that is at the heart of this piece. Kristin Storla also did her usual excellent job of staging the fight that drives the play’s climax.
Daphne Mintz has created a powerful piece, part fantastical journey into the imagination, part homage to Mary Shelley’s seminal work, part philosophical treatise on the nature of life and death and mind.
It is a memory that will not soon be borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #HerLast Expedition #SynchronicityTheatre #StrippedBareProject)