How an ALS activist prompted the Majestic’s “Frankenstein” reprise

by | Jul 2, 2021 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

Jesse Walker isn’t big on horror movies – they just aren’t his style. He’s more of a “Young Frankenstein” fan: Shows with humor are “more my speed,” he said.

So when he watched “The Fate of Frankenstein,” the May Majesticpiece Theatre production livestreamed on the Majestic’s Facebook page, he liked what he saw. Even better, the show featured a friend, Rose Taylor.

But Walker, who lives in New Jersey, also saw an opportunity to add his personal touch to the show – and to raise money to honor another friend, Rebecca Luker, a Broadway actress who died in December 2020 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Jesse Walker

Now Walker, who has cerebral palsy, is directing and appearing in a one-night-only revival of “The Fate of Frankenstein.” The show streams live Friday at 7:30 p.m. on the Majestic’s Facebook page. It’s meant as a fundraiser to increase awareness of ALS – and, in particular, to help make the case for federal approval of an experimental drug, prosetin, that could help prolong the lives of people with the disease.

The story of how Friday night’s production came to be is a testimony to the power of technology to connect people – and how it can allow people spread across the world to watch and participate in theatrical productions.

“Presumption: The Fate of Frankenstein” is an 1823 play by the British dramatist Richard Brinsley Peake. It’s almost certainly the first adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, which had been published five years before.

To rework the play a bit for modern audiences, the Majestic’s Rachel Kohler prepared an adaptation that trimmed down the original’s three-hour running time to a more manageable 90 minutes.

Among the cast members in the May production was Taylor, who had struck up a friendship with Walker. The two met when Walker, who has considerable theatrical experience, was organizing another fundraiser, a show reuniting the cast of “The Bridges of Madison County.” Taylor was interested in the reunion show in part because it featured her voice teacher. Taylor and Walker connected via social media.

In the meantime, Walker was interested in doing another fundraiser and caught Taylor’s performance in “The Fate of Frankenstein.” He liked the show, and Taylor and Walker asked Kohler if they could stage another version of the play on the Majestic’s Facebook page.

Kohler agreed and proceeded to do some additional revisions to the play, since Walker is playing the role of the narrator in Friday’s production.  “I needed to make the lines briefer, which I basically did by taking out all of the silly pontificating,” Kohler said. “The lines still deliver the same content, just in a much pithier manner.”

For his part, Walker – who also hosts a talk show, “The Jesse Walker Show,” on YouTube – said he wants to emphasize the comedic aspects of the play and is aiming for a tone somewhere between “The Rocky Horror Show” and “Spamalot.”

And for Taylor, the Friday production is another reminder of how theater can continue to use virtual stages such as Zoom or Facebook, even as pandemic restrictions ease. These virtual productions, she said, “are here to stay and hopefully others with different abilities can still find their passion of acting in this new way.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Jesse Walker has ALS. He has cerebral palsy.

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