Monday, February 17, 2014

Book-It's "Frankenstein" is the Real Story

Connor Toms, Jim Hamerlinck (shadowed) in Frankenstein (photo by Chris Bennion)

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus
through March 9

We have taken a ghost story by a remarkable 18-year-old woman, written in the early 1800s, and stretched it all over the place by now, with movies of various  sorts and successes, all the way up to the over-the-top hysteria of Young Frankenstein. The novel has sparked inspiration and adulteration and a classic "creature" that is known the world over, though often the creature is named Frankenstein, which is incorrect.

David Quicksall has adapted and directed the current theatrical production of Frankenstein for Book-It Repertory Theatre. As is Book-It's mission, he has gone back to the book and what we see on stage is crucially not a horror story, with blood and gore, though there is some of that. It is a distillation of a novel of unfettered ambition, passion without boundaries, and a cautionary tale of where human endeavor should fear to tread.

The adaptation has much to recommend it: a talented cast, as usual, headed by an intense and focused Connor Toms as Frankenstein, a young man who describes his folly in pursuing his passion for chemistry through forming and animating a quasi-human being. He tells his tale to a ship's captain (played with gravitas and enormous patience by Frank Lawler) after being rescued improbably in the waters of the Artic Sea.

The fluid set design by Andrea Bryn Bush, of many curtains billowing in stage breezes, a dim and evocative lighting scheme by Andrew D. Smith, eerie and cataclysmic sound and some terrific original music by Nathan Wade, and precise costuming by Jocelyne Fowler, provide great atmospheric support.

The cautionary tale is of a young man’s passion for science, an obsession with discovery, and some very unlikely science fiction. In some ways, the holes in the story become more obvious, and the leaps of logic more difficult for an audience member to make. But it certainly is a ripping good tale.

Frankenstein gives life to a creature and is so horrified by what he has done that he rejects the creature, leaves him completely to death or uncertain life, and tries to forget all about him. The creature (improbably – here is one of those leaps you just have to accept) not only finds a way to live, but also learns English and how to read, all by himself, and then finds a way to find his creator, Frankenstein. The creature, in retribution, then murders everyone who is important to Frankenstein.

The creature’s longing for human contact is pretty palpable, but however much ardor Jim Hamerlinck displays as the creature, and it’s considerable, the director created a certain emotional distance from the audience that fails to stimulate our empathy to the degree that could be accomplished. Partly because some of the creature’s story is told by voice-over.

I continue to wish that theaters help their playwrights/adapters by giving them top-notch directors who can team to bring out the best of each quality. Book-It is somewhat unfortunately wedded to a concept that the adapter is the best one to direct a production. I disagree with this and think they would have great synergy of energy if they allowed teams of two to create their productions. There were particular moments that a different director might have improved. Quicksall is both a great adapter and a solid director. Just better one at a time, in, as they say, my humble opinion.

Due to a small amount of nudity, the production is not for children, perhaps under sixteen. For more information, go to www.book-it.org or call 206-216-0833.