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FAMILY : 'Heart and Soul' Hopes to Engage Minds


When "Frankenstein" opens on Halloween night at the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A., it'll provide chills and thrills, promises director Debbie Devine. It will also dig a little deeper than that.

The production, presented by the Glorious Repertory Company, a new group composed of theater professionals, inaugurates "Heart and Soul," a series of three plays that will "celebrate the word, the visual and human interaction." The adult theater series was created with a purpose: to also be accessible to young people ages 10 and older.

"There is not enough theater about real-life human issues that is appropriate for adults to bring children to," Devine said.

"The work we do is not something where you're going to want to drop your kid off and pick him up after. It's really provocative material that you need to share and talk about together, because it's complex stuff."

"Frankenstein," set in 1845 Vienna, has a cast of 15, including a Bob Baker marionette. Two actors play the monster's body and mind; the latter being portrayed by Allan Hendrick, a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Makeup was designed by Blake Shepard ("Star Trek: The Next Generation") and multi-Emmy Award winner Tom Berman.

Surprisingly, the play was chosen "partly because of the L.A. riots," Devine said.

Mary Shelley's "book is really about a scientist who creates a monster and rejects him. And, out of that rejection and abandonment, the monster kills Victor Frankenstein's friends--everything he loved.

"We believe if you don't nurture the individual and society, it's going to . . . hurt you." In the play, the struggle of Vienna's underclass runs "in tandem with what happens with the monster.

All three of the plays in the series explore "our community" in one way or another, Devine noted.

The second play will be a reprise of the Odyssey's 1993 holiday production of "The Snow Maiden," about a Russian photographer's courageous search for her own humanity. It will be followed in the spring by a collaboration with Jose Cruz Gonzales from South Coast Repertory and members of his Latino Theatre Lab that looks at the issue of immigration. Dates have not yet been set.

Each play, Devine said, will appeal to adults and to youths old enough to "grasp moral ambiguity and in-depth characters and to reason through material."

"This is also a wonderful initiate experience to theater for adults," Devine said. It is "highly theatrical, fast-paced and visually engaging"--elements that are important in "the struggle to get people in the door and show them that theater can be compelling and exciting. I want to make sure they're both challenged and mesmerized by it."

Although the Odyssey is known for very adult, often cutting-edge theater, the "Heart and Soul" series is part of a new effort, according to Ron Sossi, the Odyssey's artistic director.

In addition to Devine's other theater company, the Glorious Players, which presents plays for young children, a youth conservatory is in the planning stages and the theater is "pursuing grants for arts in education" programming. "We have a kind of major move going on," Sossi said. "We're doing everything we can to encourage and develop a younger audience."

* "Frankenstein," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A., Monday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.; Sunday, 1 and 4 p.m. through Dec. 4. $12.50; (310) 477-2055.

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