The New York Times
October 31, 2003

'U.S.S. Frankenstein'
Axis Company

Christopher Swift in USS Frankenstein
The man who wasn't there goes down with the ship in "U.S.S. Frankenstein," the latest challenge to audience incredulity dreamed up by members of the Axis Company.

In 1945 the Navy cruiser Indianapolis delivered uranium and a 15-foot crate of other components to Tinian Island in the Pacific for assembly into an atomic bomb. The shrouded cargo was kept secret from everyone, including the captain, which made the ship a hive of rumors. Shortly after it was unloaded on Tinian, the Indianapolis was torpedoed, just a week before the bomb pulverized Hiroshima.

"Frankenstein" supposes that when the torpedoes hit, as the play opens, J. Robert Oppenheimer, leader of the bomb builders, was below decks. A lieutenant and a midshipman, sent to keep an eye on him, think his secret cargo is still aboard and that it is, as rumor has it, a concealed Japanese diplomat in American pay, who is about to sneak into Japan and end the war.

The more vehemently Oppenheimer denies knowing anything about the cargo and rejects the absurd idea of a crated diplomat, the deeper the sailors' questions become, and one of the men finally discovers in an adjacent cabin a concealed diplomat, made up like a clown, shirtless, wearing frayed trousers and a swallowtail coat held together in places by white surgical tape, and uttering what sounds like nonsense in a very lofty tone.

Any viewer with even a little experience of the Axis troupe will know, as soon as Oppenheimer appears, that a man of doom on a doomed ship will open up for these actors endless possibilities for exploring existential questions, ridiculing the notion that such questions have comprehensible answers and suggesting without ever saying so that human history is probably beyond moral evaluation.

The experience can be frustrating, but never dull; the roles are so deeply realized and the physical presence of the clanking, groaning hull of the disintegrating ship so threatening that the 40 minutes of this play tickle and torment one for days.

photo: Dixie Sheridan