Theatrical Impression: Frankenstein at Book-It Rep

February 17, 2014

Conor Toms in Frankenstein at Book-It. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Last Thursday, I saw Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus at Book-It Repertory Theatre (running through March 9). It was only the second night of previews, but there was a nearly full house and the energy was strong and promising for the cast. I know they had a long weekend ahead of them and had been dealing with actor illness and difficult tech in the days preceding. Overall, the production was enjoyable, but I think it could have been much shorter (it was 2 1/2 hours long) and more cohesive in aesthetics.

I am pretty familiar with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I read it for a bizarre project my university developed for incoming freshmen. (Ideally, all incoming classmen would read the same book then discuss it with people we would never interact with the following four years. Naturally, there was only one person per small group who read the book in its entirety and I was one of those.) Also, my father (and my show-going partner for this production) taught Frankenstein in his English classes for most of my life. From his familiarity developed over several years, he created multimedia lesson plans and watched every film iteration of the book. So he was quick to point out what was missing from the production and what was added in.

Armed with this knowledge, I was able to cobble together an impression. In general, the additions were strong for the benefit of the female actors. But some were unnecessary, because they detracted from the general aesthetic of the show. I don’t know exactly what David Quicksall wanted me to take away from his production. Of course, I entered the theatre with preconceived notions, but it still felt disjointed overall. I think this was due to two damaging changes: the additional letter at the top of the play and the truncation of the Creature’s story (the best part of the damn book).

Adding a letter means that the play then became a story (the Creature’s) within another story (Victor’s) within a letter (the Captain’s) within ANOTHER letter (his sister’s, completely fabricated). The novel is already over-complicated in the sense of its meta-ness. Why add another letter? What does it all mean? If the Captain is writing a letter at the top of the show, do we NEED to know why? The first moment of a play should be solely used to express to the audience this is why we are gathered here today. Were we gathered to ask when the Captain was coming home or were we gathered to question our humanity and savageness and if they are synonymous? I think it is the latter.

The first act spent most of its time on the very first part of Victor’s story, meaning the Creature got less stage time, when it his story that makes us think about what it means to be human. Are we truly enlightened beings, when we we will easily forsake someone in need because he seems like he might hurt us? Or are we all just savages, no better or worse than the creature with basic desires of shelter, food,  companionship, and knowledge? What is a savage? The noble savage is a common theme in literature (Brave New World was one of my favorite books in middle school) and has been a common theme in the news recently; Trayvon Martin‘s shooting first comes to mind. I think Quicksall lost a grand opportunity to convey an important and current theme to us for the sake of comedic gore in a pseudo-gothic setting with a flimsy, yet over-complicated set.

I think the play will come together. This was only the second preview, so as the actors become more confident with their stage movements and transitions, it will become a well-loved piece. Most of the audience gave them a standing ovation for a preview, and I think it will only continue to be so well-received. However, I still think the script could have used another pass: one, for accuracy and two, to give more of the dialogue to mouths and motivations of the characters. The end result would have been a more cohesive aesthetic and a less disjointed performance.

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