“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.” – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
If there were a conceivable method to resuscitate the dead, would you want to use it? How far would you go to achieve this goal? What if it all went horribly awry? Fictional character Victor Frankenstein attempts to do just that in an infamous novel published in 1818 by author Mary Shelley. Exactly two centuries later, Off the Quill’s Tom McGrath and Patrick Mullen have taken said novel (named after its protagonist,) adapted it, and turned it into a play with the same title for a new production at the Greenbelt Arts Center in Greenbelt, MD.
Most American audiences are at least somewhat familiar with the age-old tale of Frankenstein, the story of a man so consumed by hatred of his greatest creation that he ends up getting crushed by it. But this is not your father’s Frankenstein. McGrath and Mullen have painstakingly taken a 280-page novel, condensed it into a 90-minute one-act drama, and crafted it into the kind of production OTQ is known for. A few characters and plot points have been cut in the process, but what remains is a taut performance piece – directed by McGrath – that tells the saga of one man’s descent into desolation. In the original novel, Dr. Frankenstein is a scientist whose life’s goal is to find a way to reanimate the dead. In the OTQ version, merely reviving people isn’t enough. Viktor (sic) Frankenstein wishes to create an entirely new species – one that far surpasses mere human beings. It is an obsession that overwhelms the scientist and takes him away from his loved ones for months at a time. But when his dream is finally realized, the results are so hideous that Dr. Frankenstein abruptly abandons the monstrous creature he toiled so long and hard to design. Unfortunately, the miscreation has been built to have his own mind. He takes it upon himself to become educated and then devises a plan to come after and ultimately destroy the scientist and all that he stands for.
The cast of Frankenstein is small, but brilliant. Three of the actors wear multiple hats. Donald Cook plays Viktor’s father; Professor Waldman, Viktor’s mentor; and DeLacey, a blind man who treats the Creature kindly and teaches him how to read. Cook exudes a quiet confidence as he moves seamlessly from character to character. In addition to playing DeLacey’s son Felix, Patrick Mullen provides comic relief as Clerval, Viktor’s closest friend. As Clerval, Mullen comfortably saunters across the room, sometimes gently swirling a chalice of liquor in his hand. His natural presence on the stage is a joy to watch. As the only female in the ensemble, Leanne Dinverno takes on her roles with aplomb. She gives the audience a tough and feisty Elizabeth (Viktor’s fiancé.) In the novel Elizabeth is written to fade into the woodwork, but Dinverno captures her strength and makes her a force to be reckoned with. Dinverno’s “Bride of Frankenstein” is simultaneously humorous and creepy. And both are very different from her third persona, Agatha – Felix DeLacey’s wife – which demonstrates Dinverno’s flexibility as an actor.
As Viktor Frankenstein, Andy De beautifully runs the gamut from softheartedness to madness. His interactions with the Creature are truly mesmerizing to behold. And last – but certainly not least – is Jimmy Heyworth as the Creature. Heyworth’s performance is sometimes ghoulish, sometimes tender, but always stunning. His portrayal is multi-layered and highly nuanced, and though his character is seen as a monster, Heyworth always finds a way to let his humanity shine through.
The steampunk-influenced scenery – designed by the talented and incredibly versatile Patrick Mullen – is truly inspired. When you first look at it, it doesn’t look like much – a backdrop painted in shades of brown with three groups of double doors – and an archway in the middle for large-scale entrances and exits. But as the action progresses, one door in each group opens to reveal decorations on the opposite side which help to evoke a particular setting. One side represents Viktor Frankenstein’s home with his father – where he spends time with his loved ones. The other side serves as the humble residence of the DeLacey’s. The middle represents Frankenstein’s laboratory. With only a few small pieces of furniture and the decorations, Mullen manages to build three entire sets in a very minimalist fashion – and it works amazingly well. The costumes also have a steampunk flair. Mention should be made of the Creature’s makeup. His face is pale with garish streaks of red and black, and he dons one yellow contact lens, thus ensuring a gruesome appearance. Truth be told, everything about the look of this production is impressive.
Frankenstein is an intense, bone-chilling play that among other things, explores the responsibilities that come with having the power to generate life. Though Dr. Frankenstein’s creation is produced through chemistry and not biology, he acts like a rebellious son, trying to get revenge on a father who deserted him. It also shows what can happen to a person when he throws himself so thoroughly into his work he abandons everything else in his life. Bottom line: If you have any humanity at all, Frankenstein is definitely worth seeing. In fact, it’s monstrously good!
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
Frankenstein plays through August 25, 2018 with Off The Quill at the Greenbelt Arts Center — 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (301) 441-8770 or by purchasing them online.