Saturday, January 28, 2023

REVIEW: Manual Cinema's Frankenstein Through January 29th, 2023

ChiIL Mama’s ChiIL Picks List


Manual Cinema (U.S./Chicago)

Presented by the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

January 27-29

Family Friendly - 12 and up

ADA accessible

66 minutes

by Dugan Kenaz-Mara, Guest Critic

Note: This puppet show involves childbirth, violence, murder, and grief. Some parts are scary, so it may not be suitable for children. (The festival recommends 12 and up)

Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein is definitely a sight to behold! The show tells a beautiful story, starting with Mary Shelley’s life and contextualizing her idea for writing the book. From there it seamlessly transitions into the monster story everyone knows so well, all while tying back to her real life through visual and auditory motifs. They are able to tell a very emotional tale, causing the audience to laugh, cry, and gasp, all without speaking a single word. You even get your pick of characters to connect to emotionally, from a mother to a child, or even the creature himself.  

The puppeteers are very clearly experts in their craft, easily combining live-action performance, overhead projection, and standard puppetry to make a cohesive story that unites different styles. Mary Shelley’s life is mainly told through shadow puppetry, with the actors becoming silhouettes on a projected background. The Creature’s story is acted out with a puppet, filmed up close, and Victor’s side is performed live, shot in black and white with captions like a silent movie. And throughout all of the style-hopping, the puppeteers blend in their famous overhead projections to develop the setting and add in characters. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a silhouette on screen is an actor or a puppet, that’s how good it is!

Like any Manual Cinema performance, it is always a joy to watch the performers as they work. Getting a glimpse into the background of the work is fascinating. For example, learning how they move the puppets or how objects that look real on camera may be 2D in real life. And watching movie-quality transitions happen in real time is crazy as well. If you see the show keep an eye out for the part where Victor shares his research paper with other scientists.

While the puppetry was amazing, it is also necessary to applaud the rest of the design. The lighting, though subtle throughout the show, was incredibly impactful. The live accompaniment was also stunning, bringing the entire show to life. Overall, it is a very well-put-together performance and I would highly recommend seeing it. ★★★★ Four out of four stars. 

**Every time we talk about Manual Cinema my mom loves to point out how brilliant their overhead-projected rain is. This particular show features their rain frequently, so it’s almost worth seeing just for that…**

Dugan is an actor, designer, and photographer studying theatre and psychology at Northwestern University. Contrary to popular belief, he is not a time traveler.

The Chicago run is sold out, but you can come down to the Studebaker Theatre at least a half hour before showtime to get on the waitlist.

Three performances: Friday, January 27 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, January 29 at 3 p.m.

Tickets: $45/$35 students and seniors

Love, loss, and creation merge in unexpected ways when Manual Cinema presents its thrilling version of the classic Gothic tale, “Frankenstein.” This Chicago-based performance collective imaginatively combines shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, sound effects, and live music in haunting shows like nothing else you’ve ever seen. With Frankenstein, Manual Cinema stitches together the original gothic novel with the biography of its author, Mary Shelley, to create an unexpected story about the beauty and horror of creation. 

Manual Cinema is an Emmy award winning performance collective, design studio, and film/ video production company founded in 2010 by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter. Manual Cinema tours internationally, combining handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive stories for stage and screen. Using vintage overhead projectors, multiple screens, puppets, actors, live feed cameras, multi-channel sound design, and a live music ensemble, Manual Cinema transforms the experience of attending the cinema and imbues it with liveness, ingenuity, and theatricality. Their shadow puppet animations were featured in the 2021 film remake of Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta and produced by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions. Recent productions include Leonardo! A Wonderful Show about a Terrible Monster, based on books by Mo Willems, and a new live version of Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol, based on the acclaimed virtual production in 2020.

Manual Cinema's 'Frankenstein'- Official Trailer (Long)

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