Brandon Meeks, Zachary Burrell & Tony Milder. Photo: StageOne
By Mary Shelley
Adapted by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Andrew D. Harris
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I’m not sure how many have read Mary Shelley’s classic novel, so familiar is the creature from countless generations of the story that have moved further and further from the source. It seems likely that there might be a good number of people who have never read or seen any of these, and only know the Frankenstein “monster” as a cartoonish icon. But it is in the theatre that we tend to find iterations that hew closer to the original tale.
In this new adaptation, Playwright and StageOne Artistic Director Idris Goodwin has taken the story out for a fresh spin, and it is beautiful, haunting, dark, and frightening. After opening with a bold, startling glimpse into a later, climactic scene, he returns to the beginning and lets the narrative develop with room to breathe.
Victor Frankenstein (Tony Milder) is a brilliant young medical student with unorthodox ideas about the reanimation of dead bodies. His penchant for playing God is balanced by the grounded rationality of his good friend Henry Ray, (Zachary Burrell) and paramour Elizabeth (Maggie Lou Rader). He also has a precocious younger brother, William (Levi Maynard).
The early scenes are literate, dialogue-heavy explorations that establish character and relationships while laying the philosophical groundwork for the great themes of Shelley’s story: identity and immortality. Ethics are also at the heart of the matter, with Henry asking a question of Victor that is still an essential query in science today: just because we can do a thing, doesn’t mean we should.
The ensemble does good work, with Tony Milder a fine servant to intellectual hubris as Victor. Brandon Meeks is a Creature in name, or lack thereof, only. Goodwin has shaped a very human figure of Frankenstein’s creation, a figure newly born yet burdened with the trauma of the dead from which he came. Instead of his visible scars seeming gruesome, they symbolize the pain of past suffering. Meeks imbues the pitiable character with the innocence of discovery and a palpable loneliness that is reminiscent of Lenny from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, except that the Creature’s violence is unquestionably malevolent.
At 75 minutes, this a beat or two longer than most StageOne shows, and perhaps scarier than might have been expected, especially when compared to most of what is pitched at young audiences in this day and time. A small girl sitting behind me was in some distress during the climactic moments, despite her father’s gentle handling and whispered admonitions that it was all just pretend.
Yet, as soon as the lights went to black and the curtain call began, she was on her feet clapping, a smile lighting up her face. It was an important reminder of the need to explore all corners of the human emotional experience. The Grimm Brothers understood, as did Walt Disney when he was producing the first generation of his features, the value of a good fright in the balanced development of young hearts and minds, and so too does Mr. Goodwin.
The stark and uncluttered design work is nonetheless evocative and impactful in the big moments, and Zhanna Goldentul’s Costume and Makeup Design are especially important here. Fight Choreographer Sarah Flanagan stages the physical confrontations in a fashion that pushes the boundaries of what you would expect in a “children’s theatre” production. I don’t think it goes too far, though, and it underscores that young audiences require authenticity as much as adults, and this Frankenstein never patronizes.
Featuring Zachary Burrell, Candice Handy, Brandon Meeks. Tony Milder, Maggie Lou Rader, Terry Schwab, Paige Franklin/Mary Keck, Flynn Harris/Levi Maynard.
Public show dates: October 19, 20, 26, 27 & 31 @ 7:30 pm
October 20 @ 1:30 pm
Sensory-friendly performance: October 27 @ 2:00 pm
Stage One Family Theater
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.