Oft portrayed on stage and screen (including multiple stage adaptations during the author’s own lifetime), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus” continues to capture audience imagination in its myriad mutations. In spite of its gothic and melodramatic trappings, Shelley’s cautionary tale of the obsessed, young scientist Victor Frankenstein and his monstrous creation poses serious ethical questions akin to modern-day concerns surrounding cloning; some call it the first science-fiction novel.
David Quicksall has adapted “Frankenstein” for Book-It Repertory Theatre and also directs. While his adaptation does not entirely abandon the moral questions posed by “Frankenstein,” it tends to focus on the more gothic and lurid aspects of the tale. Thus, Victor Frankenstein’s (Connor Toms) physical beauty conceals a coarseness of character and barely repressed sexual abandon. (Audiences beware: Both male and female frontal nudity is on display.) In contrast, the monster’s (Jim Hamerlinck) hideous exterior is belied by a beautiful soul that finds poetry in familial love and the everyday ways of man.
Book-It prides itself on adaptations that cleave closely to the source material, and Quicksall’s is no exception, perhaps to a fault. He retains the framing structure of the novel in which Victor recounts his story to Walton (Frank Lawler in a mostly thankless role as listener), whose quest for a passage through the North Pole is equal in obsession to Victor’s own search for the secret of life.
Unfortunately, just as the audience is settling in for a long, spooky story, Victor periodically points out the parallels between his own obsession and that of Walton. Commonplace as these moral disquisitions are in novels of an earlier age, they propel the audience out of the story in the shortened trajectory of a play.
The first act could also use some judicious editing of the plot points as it takes the audience at a somewhat-maddening gallop through Victor’s childhood, complete with Oedipal complex, obsession with science growing to madness, creation and then abandonment of the monster. Toms does a credible job of portraying Victor’s evolution, but the frantic pace appears to leave him reeling at times.
Pacing improves in the second act, as the monster, in a sympathetic portrayal by Hamerlinck, recounts his tale without interruption and with the wise excision of non-essential narratives, such as the Justine Moretz story and that of Victor’s imprisonment. (In the novel, Justine is accused, convicted and executed for a murder committed by the monster. Similarly, Victor is jailed for a murder the monster committed.)
The story unfolds against the backdrop of Andrea Bryn Bush’s shadowed set, hung with translucent curtains reminiscent of a shroud.
Andrew D. Smith’s dramatic lighting and use of shadows are reminiscent of German expressionist films such as “Nosferatu.”
“Frankenstein” plays through March 9 at Book-It Repertory Theatre. For more information, visit www.book-it.org.
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