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The creator and the creature – ‘Frankenstein’

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The creator and the creature – ‘Frankenstein’ (Photo courtesy of Midcoast Actors' Studio/Leah Bannister)

Midcoast Actors’ Studio produces new adaptation of classic tale 

BELFAST – When Mary Shelley penned “Frankenstein” in 1818, she created a monster that has taken on a life of its own and continues to be a viable aspect of our cultural frame. Over the years there have been countless variations of the Frankenstein tale, with so many creative developments of the iconic story that the tale’s beginnings have become a bit fuzzy.

The monster has become a green-skinned, flat-headed, heavily-stitched, big-booted, inarticulate beast whose name is confused with that of its creator. This more cartoonish version of the monster has become so common that it feels almost exotic to get back to basics and revisit Shelly’s original tale.

The Midcoast Actors’ Studio’s production of “Frankenstein” is much more closely linked to Shelley’s original narrative. Her novel was adapted for the stage by director Erik Perkins. Perkins has spent the last year adapting the classic spooky story of re-animation, stating “I wanted something that was very true to the source material but still had a good pace and some broader appeal. I’ll write my own adaption. How hard could it be?”

Pretty hard, as it turns out.

Rewriting “Frankenstein” proved to be an exhausting endeavor. It has taken Perkins more than eight months, multiple drafts and consultation with local writers Danielle Bannister and Richard Sewell. The final “creation” has life imitating art, with Perkins playing the role of a playwright Frankenstein of sorts.

The “Frankenstein” legend explores the bond between the creator and his creature. In the Shelley story, Frankenstein is driven by desire to win immortality for himself by reanimating dead material. When he finally finds success, however, Frankenstein is immediately horrified by the hideous thing he has created. The creature then becomes abandoned by its creator and goes off on its own. The creature learns language and reading, but is continually thought to be a monster by the people with whom he desires companionship. The creature bargains with Frankenstein to have a custom-made bride. When, Frankenstein fails to honor the deal, the creature takes revenge in the destruction of Frankenstein’s loved ones and Frankenstein himself.

The Midcoast Actors’ Studio production starts slowly, taking time to establish location and character identity, but what it lacks in speed it more than makes up in humor. The beginning of the performance will have you laughing in your seat as the creature learns to speak. One of my favorite early scenes was hearing the creature inarticulately exclaim, “Potato.”

After that light-hearted beginning, though, the production gets deeply serious. The interplay between Frankenstein and his wayward, unwanted offspring gives heft to the story. The creature tells a personal tale of loneliness and isolation while Frankenstein tells a tale of his own demise. The connection between the two characters makes the audience reflect long after they have exited the theater.

The Midcoast Actors’ Studio presentation of this archetypal drama is a magnificent arrangement of theatrical art. The 18-person cast is impeccable. Tyler Johnstone shines as Victor Frankenstein. He portrays a wide emotional range: from the thrill of scientific achievement, to detestation and aggressive hatred towards his creation.

Eric Sanders impresses as the creature. Shelley’s version of the creature is intelligent, rational and perceptive. Sanders’s fills the complex role with a sensitive strength. The creature is at times softhearted - when it seeks human companionship, for instance – but can also be filled with rage and anger. That anger was powerful and palpable when the creature roared at Frankenstein, “You are my creator, but I am your master.”

Julia Clapp is spellbinding as Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s betrothed. She brings both beauty and elegance to the Broadway-sized Crosby stage.

The production values are exceptional. The sound effects by Jay Rosenberg, the lighting design by Juniper Purinton and set design by John Bielenberg and Joe Wassam are all superb. The stage is divided into three sections that are often separated by wooden wall props. The narration of the story takes place downstage, nearest the audience. Communications between characters take place mid-stage and Frankenstein’s laboratory experiments take place upstage.

The sound and music are sophisticated and the lighting effects are dazzling. There is everything from pale glows to dark passionate red hues. One particularly memorable example is the moment of the creature’s birth is done under an intense sequence of different colored illuminations.

Mary Shelley’s masterpiece plays an important role in the origins of both science fiction and horror as literary genres. It is great to get back to basics with this exquisite Midcoast Actors’ Studio’s production that celebrates those forms.

(“Frankenstein” runs through Oct. 29. With showings at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Performances are held at the Crosby Center on Church Street. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students. For more information, visit midcoastactors.org and the troupe’s Facebook page or call 370-7592.) 

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