Adapted by Neal Bell from the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Directed by Jim Petosa; Scenic Designer, Martin Gjoni; Costume Designer, Adrienne Carlile; Lighting Designer, Chris Brusberg; Sound Designer, Steve Dee; Technical Director, Kyle Moore; Stage Manager, Kevin Schlagle; Production Manager, Andrew Brown
CAST: Tim Spears (Walton, Clerval), Stephen Elrod (Forster, Father), Michael Kaye (Victor), Cloteal L. Horne (Mother, Justine), Britian Seibert (Elizabeth), Jake McLean (Cat, William), John Zdrojeski (Creature)
Performances through February 25 by Boston Center for American Performance at BU Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.bu.edu/cfa/bcap
The atmospheric conditions in the BU Theatre Lane-Comley Studio 210 are just right for Obie Award-winning playwright Neal Bell's unsettling stage adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, presented by the Boston Center for American Performance. The sight and smell of smoke, the surrounding walls draped in sheets of white fabric, and a brew of eerie sounds and lights combine to set the mood for Monster, a rendering of the oft-told tale that is not likely to be confused with earlier film or theatrical versions. Bell's edition will not evoke images of Boris Karloff or Mel Brooks, but it elevates the underlying themes of one man's attempt to play God and discover a way to defeat death to an inescapable level of consciousness.
Newly-minted Artistic Director of New Repertory Theatre and BCAP Artistic Director Jim Petosa helms this production, performed by a mix of faculty and student actors from Boston University's College of Fine Arts School of Theatre. The creative design team is made up of students and alumni, as well. Their contribution to the impact of Monster cannot be overstated; Mother Nature virtually becomes a twelfth character in the play, thanks to Lighting Designer Chris Brusberg and Sound Designer Steve Dee. Bell posits that electricity from a lightning bolt is the force that can raise the dead, so they manufacture a couple of powerful storms that are vital to Dr. Frankenstein's work.
Monster takes place in the early 1800s in Europe and somewhere in the Arctic Ocean. In addition to the different locales, there are time shifts that show Frankenstein in boyhood and young adulthood, laying the foundation for his research and ultimate creation. The play begins with a group of explorers in the Arctic trying to outrun the approaching ice that may entrap their ship before they discover a route to the North Pole. Instead, they find a man, who may or may not be mad, wandering in the wilderness in search of a creature who is out to destroy him. Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Michael Kaye) tells his story to the ship's captain (Tim Spears) and, via flashbacks, we learn together how he ended up in the frozen north. The non-linear telling of the story creates some confusion and I heard more than one person question the setting of part of the play in the Arctic.
Victor is a tormented character who fears life and loving because he fears dying. He dedicates his research to finding a way to defeat death by creating life, but he cannot predict what that will unleash. He is ill-equipped to be the father to the monstrous child (John Zdrojeski) born of his experiments, and so abandons him in the woods with the hope that he will meet his demise. However, Creature turns out to be practically indestructible and haunts Frankenstein, demanding that his creator accept responsibility for him or pay dearly in human cost. In a strange role reversal, Creature becomes the hunter, rather than the hunted; as if the One-armed Man had gone after Dr. Richard Kimball in The Fugitive. In any case, Victor finds that playing God is highly overrated.