Frankenstein’s monster may have looked amusing, like a stitched up version of Mr. Clean had he just been clipped by a lawnmower, but alas, the Sight Unseen Theatre Group succeeded in reinstating the serious social, political and religious commentary that Mary Shelley intended be in her classic gothic tale of the early 1800s, into its production.
Sight Unseen Theatre Group opened its run of Monster, Neal Bell’s theatrical rewrite of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, on Friday, October 1st, at the Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica.
Performances will be held at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday until it closes on Halloween, October 31st. Tickets are $20 for general admission, and $15 for students and seniors.
Through Neal Bell’s script, director Andy Mitton is able to shed the movieland shallowness and Halloween children’s cartoon appeal that has come to be associated with the Frankenstein story.
Depictions of the monster in Shelley’s Frankenstein have come to hold as little social or religious relevance as a cardboard caricature of George Washington on President’s Day or Santa Claus at Christmas time.
“Throw out all those preconceptions of Halloween masks and green-faced giants,” writes Mitton about the production.
Those masks, in this case, serve only to mask the complexity and meaning of the story.
Mitton wanted the production to stand out not for its gimmicky, packaged monster — like the character played by Boris Karloff in the 1931 Universal Pictures release — but more for illustrating and exploring the dangers of man playing God and Creator, and questioning the very reality of a god. All remain relevant topics in the modern age of cloning and stem cell research.
Shelley was the daughter of women’s rights advocate and radical thinker Mary Wollstonecraft and the wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
It’s no surprise that the literary product of her surroundings is a gothic tale with socio-political motivations.
Bell’s script reminds us that the Frankenstein novel is not the cutesy Halloween children’s story it has been lampooned as throughout the last century, but a serious work of English literature with persevering relevance.
In the Sight Unseen Theatre Group production, Michael Laurino plays Victor Frankenstein, the ambitious, ingenious doctor who aspires to be godlike, to be man’s creator, and to hold the power of life or death under his scalpel. The wrecklessness of his aspirations is foreshadowed when he dissects the family cat for one of his experiments with little hesitation.
But friends and loved ones must die before he begins to doubt his ingenuity and realizes that perhaps he’s merely an unscrupulous, butchering schlep.
Laurino skillfully portrays an obsessively driven, scatterbrained and conscienceless Victor Frankenstein, never taking a free moment to soak in the human toll of his carefree experiments.
Victor’s manic younger brother William, an early 19th century version of a Ritalin kid, is played by Frank Smith.
Smith is cleverly convincing as the loopy child William, leaving the viewer with no regrets about the irony that the actor is a full-grown adult. The man-child act adds comic relief and pizzaz to the dreary subject matter of the tale. Also ironic is that William’s childish dribble can be deciphered as being some of the most thought-provoking and philosophical suggestions and concepts of the play.
In one of pesty William’s idyllic taunts, he repeats over and over again a word that someone has just uttered, such as “dead, dead, dead, dead….”
William then explains that if you say a word over and over, it loses its meaning, and it becomes nothing more than a meaningless sound.
The viewer can let William’s observation slide as childish nonsense or catch it as an intentionally sly witticism on desensitization, added by the playwright.
Actor/producer Clark Freeman was effectively cast as Frankenstein’s creature. Freeman’s grace of movement and skillful acting make the audience feel pain through each groan and gripe of the stitched-together abomination that he portrays.
The well-choreographed and chilling sound effects of snapping fingers and necks caused quite a few cringed faces in the audience, and set the path towards the monster’s impending murderous mayhem. Freeman makes the monster sound like he’s going to snap, and he does.
Conflicting with the director’s statements to the contrary, the exaggerated stitches and pulsing green veins painted on Freeman’s character do seem reminiscent of a Hollywood monster film.
Did the production of Monster completely succeed in ridding the Frankenstein monster of his campy image? Of course not. How could it?
But makeup designer Joy Venides can relax, though, because from an audience member’s perspective, the makeup job was effective and intriguing and kept all eyes glued to the creature.
Besides, it’s not her job to dispel decades of an ingrained image of the Frankenstein monster in one swoop. Adding realism to the wounds would neither add nor detract from the social and philosophical points that were aptly emphasized in this production. But judging by the monster’s get-up, Sight Unseen knows the benefits of a little show biz flashiness as well.
At the point in the play where the creature is searching for a wife, the creature starts to come across more like a schoolyard groper than a desperate suitor trapped in a tormented mix of bodies. Audience sympathy for the suffering creature begins to dwindle.
And the created becomes wraithlike and more powerful than its cowering creator.
This is a small theater group with a limited cast size and resources, so some actors do play multiple roles, leaving no room for snoozing on the audience’s part.
They need to pay full attention at first to catch whether Susan Matus is in her role as “Justin” or “Mother,” for example.
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein during a time when novel-writing was an effective way of indirectly criticizing political and religious powers-that-be, when other means of communication were sparse, non-existent or dangerous.
Sight Unseen Theatre Group has produced a thought-provoking play in an age when communication and information are so abundant and overwhelming that a person’s time out for entertainment may be the only time of the day they really get to stop and think.
Reservations, (877) 986-7336.