Monday, June 26, 2017

Frankenstein—Modern Prometheans—E. Portland


“What a Piece of Work is Man…”

This new adaptation of the classic horror tale by Mary Shelley is adapted for the stage and directed by Paul Cosca.  It is playing at The Mister Theater, 1847 E. Burnside St., through July 2nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.modernprometheans.org or call 406-214-0695.

This famous tale from Shelley’s episodic novel has been adapted, spoofed and re-imagined many times for the screen.  Among the earliest is a silent one with Charles Ogle, as a crossed-eyed monster; then there is the famous (and still best) ones with Karloff as the creature; then a radio adaptation; Lee in Hammer’s take on it; a rather poor TV remake with Sarrazan as the creation; Corman’s cheapie; Gothic; Branagh’s with De Niro (great actor but can’t top Karloff in this); Burton’s animated, Frankenweenie, as well as Depp as Edward Scissorhands; The Bride, with Sting as the Doctor; the spoofs of Brooks,’ Young Frankenstein; the musical of Rocky Horror; and lately, the two Sherlock Holmes,’ of the American series and BBC’s mini-series, with the two actors alternating leads in a stage presentation, et. al.  Whew!

And now we have 5 actors (playing about 10 characters) on a mostly bare stage, spreading the story over several locations, with only minimum costumes changes and some clever lighting, to create the atmosphere.  Not only that, but the director and adaptor (Paul Cosca), also plays the title character of Dr. Victor Frankenstein!  I admit that when I agreed to see this, I was skeptical of this being successful as a stage presentation.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  The acting is quite good, the adaptation, although condensed somewhat, does capture the essence of the story, and Cosca manages the three major jobs very well.  It told in a story-telling fashion, which I like, in which the audience is employed to contribute their imagination to the process (something sadly lacking in today’s computerized landscape).

The tale should be familiar to anyone that has viewed any of the above films of the story.  But to give you a flavor of it, it has to do with a young boy, witnessing the death of his beloved mother, wishing he could forestall death and the degeneration process, so he becomes a doctor.  Somewhere along the line he loses his original focus and become obsessed with creating life itself.  He spurns those who love him including the love-of-his-life, the enchanting, Elizabeth (Nicole Rayner), his supportive father, Alphonse (Kraig Williams) and his gentle, best friend, Henry (Kyle Urban), as well as the blessings of the university.

And so he stitches together cadavers, and extracts a brain from a dying youth.  The Creature (Thomas Zalutko) does indeed live but doesn’t seem too happy to be existing in such an alien environment and so goes on a rampage.  Eventually he learns language and friendship from a blind man in the forest but his hideous looks frighten the rest of the household, so he must fend for himself, withdrawing to remote regions.  Victor traces his creation to have a showdown.  The Creature demands that Victor now create a mate for him, in exchange they will disappear forever.  If Victor fails, then he will wreck havoc on all of Victor’s loved ones.  I will stop there, as not to give away the climax, but know that it isn’t pleasant.

As I said, the cast is quite good with special kudos going to Cosca as the creator of Victor, as well as the script and production.  Probably the most difficult character to create, though, is the Creature, as one has to decide whether he is mad, or sad, or just terribly misunderstood.  It is never fully explained in the original story why the Creature chooses to kill (although in the Karloff depiction, it is because he has the brains from a madman).

Zalutko does a credible job of picturing him as a “stranger in a strange land,” who has no moral scope or training to give him direction.  And so, like a child, he has temper tantrums whenever he doesn’t get his own way.  The question then becomes, who is really the monster/villain of the piece, the parent/creator who produces a child, then abandons him to the elements to forge his own way, or the child/creature, who is forced to flounder in a primeval soup of conflicting conducts of behavior?!  It is a dilemma that you should decide.
I recommend this production.  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.