Highly Recommended **** It is just about the middle of October. All the leaves are turning beautiful Autumn shades of color and all the empty stores are opening as costume shops as Halloween is approaching. How fitting for First Folio Theatre, the company that resides in an old Mansion/Church in Oakbrook to start their 19th season with a horror story, making its World Premiere, “The Gravedigger” on its stage. For those of you who love the tales of Frankenstein and all the various stories that cling to this tale about the building of a man designed to save all mankind, this is as Paul Harvey would say “The rest of the story”. Written by one of First Folio’s Own, Joseph Zettelmaier, this version takes us to the cemetery where Baron Von Frankenstein bought the body parts he uses to create “The Monster”. The grave-digger, Kurt (another superior performance by Chicago favorite Craig Spidle) is an ex-priest, who lives alone on the grounds as he puts it “In repentance for his sins”. One night he finds a huge man in one of the graves. A Man who is covered in bandages and is immense in size, but very well spoken. He names him Anton and allows Anton to stay with him as friend and worker.
Anton (deftly handled by Josh Carroll, who is in fact quite large and very strong, but brings something different to the character we all know as “the Monster”) tells us his story and why he has chosen to die. In seeing a different side to this character, we, the audience begin to have some feelings for him and his plight. One that was not caused by him, but in fact by Victor (Doug MacKechnie) who created him from bits and pieces of others with no soul. After all, how can a creature, with no knowledge or teachings, have a soul?
As the story progresses and these two men, Kurt and Anton, become friends we see the changes in each. They become more open and honest about their feelings and in fact, Anton begins to develop what might be called a soul. Victor continues to search for his creation so that he can end the misery that he has built. There are times that we wonder if Victor will be successful and that Anton will be destroyed. I will not tell you the outcome of this part of the story except to let you know that you will feel good about the ending.
There is also a love story, of sorts, in the story-line as Anton meets a gypsy, Nadya (divinely played by Simina Contras) who spends her nights stealing bones and soil (as well as anything else of value) from the graves. She uses these to aid her in her telling of the future. It is Nadya who gives Anton a heart that works and someone to care about. Nadya, however, betrays her Anton for a bag of gold in telling Victor that he is on the cemetery grounds. By the way, the set by Angela Weber Miller is dynamite. The only problem is the exit sign that has to be lit by law in Kurt’s cabin. The lighting by Michael McNamara is dark and dank, as it should be for this particular tale and the sound and original music by Christopher Kriz is sheer perfection.
Directed by Allison C. Vesely, this epic tale, told from a new perspective is one that I found a pleasant and entertaining two hours. It was not as gory as I thought it might be. A little blood and guts and oh, yes, one gun shot, but all in all, a meaningful look at two men and their lonely and somewhat wasted lives becoming meaningful. Both Kurt and Anton change before our very eyes and the transition is one that will bring a small tear to your eye.
If you have never been to a First Folio Theatre production, you must understand first that the theater itself is unique as is the entire area. They are located in OakBrook on the Mayslake Peabody Estate (Route 83 and 31st Street). The grounds are massive and the building likewise. The theater part of the estate is what was once a church and the stage is open with no curtain. The seats are on risers so you are not in a pew and all seats have great sight lines. There are confessionals on the side, but I have never seen them be a part of the show. The reason I bring this up is that as you pull into the parking area you get the feeling that you are in another world which works well with a play that has this subject matter. When you see the set and the opening scene you will start to feel a bit eerie and as the story unwinds, your fear will disappear. In its place, a new understanding of the character we have always called “The Monster”. This does indeed start where the original left off. Bravo and enjoy.
“The Gravedigger” will continue at First Folio in Oakbrook through November 2nd ( with a special performance on October 31st-Happy Halloween). The performance schedule is as follows:
Tickets range from $29-$39 with discounts for Seniors and student’s. FREE Parking
The play runs two hours with an intermission ( where cookies and tea are served)
To place an order for your chance to experience this delightful experience call the theater at 630-966-8067 or visit www.firstfolio.org
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Gravedigger”