By Dale King
Student actors at Florida Atlantic University have brought the Frankenstein story to life in a frightening retelling of the novel written exactly 200 years ago by Mary Shelley, wife of English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and daughter of pioneering feminist thinker Mary Wollstonecraft.
This show differs markedly from versions popularized since the early 20th century, performances that often feature a flat-headed, uber-strong, apparently irrational creature deemed evil only by his grunting inability to communicate and mankind’s irrational fear of the undefinable.
There are no gangs of torch-carrying villagers in FAU’s performance and no emotional scene where the monster spares a little girl near a pond. Not only can this creature talk, he becomes more articulate as the play progresses and he begins to read books. Aware of his own evil, he confronts his creator, Victor Frankenstein (Christian Mouisset), admitting he hates him for crafting him as a monster. The creature vows revenge by killing Victor’s friends and family.
The production by students in FAU’s Department of Theatre and Dance completes its two-weekend run Sunday in the Studio One Theatre on the first floor of the University Theatre.
Because this Frankenstein is an unfettered first of its kind, the audience must strike all recollections of creatures portrayed through the years by Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, even Fred Gwynne. Director Lee Soroko points out that FAU’s production “is an examination of hubris in the blind pursuit of knowledge when science releases forces it cannot control.”
Clearly, scientist Victor Frankenstein should have known better than to create a living creature from “parts” of corpses. He was gifted with curiosity and knowledge, money to equip a laboratory and the love of a beautiful woman (Indya Jackson). But he forsakes all – and even disregards best friend, Henry (Alex Kalled) – to embark on a blind experiment to create life from the lifeless.
And while his stitched-together creature does come to life, the experiment is a failure because Frankenstein’s faux-being seems heartless, cruel and pitiful.
In her original story, Shelley combined several literary styles to create one entity. Soroko notes that when she wrote the story in 1818, “the term ‘scientist’ did not exist, nor did the literary genres of ‘gothic horror’ or ‘science fiction.’ Shelley is credited with creating both of these.”
Shelley’s “monster” – portrayed with remarkable expertise by Ryan Page – seems the only character able to express or engender emotion in this stage production. Victor seems more interested in experimentation, then fixing the mistake he made when his miscreant begins killing his relatives.
Because the character of Frankenstein’s monster has been revised so often over two centuries – with knock-off horror films, TV skits, animated shorts and dime store kids’ books – some scenes just don’t come across the way the author intended.
When Victor throws the switch to send an electric shock into the creature to ignite life, he flatly tosses out a line, “It lives.” The response lacks the hysteria of the mad scientist in the original Karloff Frankenstein film who screams, “It’s alive, it’s alive” as lightning and sparks envelop his lab.
It’s true, though, that Shelley was not going for melodrama in her story, but, instead, offered her take on the musings of intellectuals, physicists and philosophers in that era who were actually toying with the idea of creating life from dismembered corpses.
Soroko also points to the essence of the original story. “The creature, after all, is a genetic blank slate who is an amalgam of many beings. His creator, Victor Frankenstein, embodies the epitome of parental neglect.” In this play, the monster often calls Victor “father.”
Frankenstein is certainly intriguing. And while there are 19 people in the cast, the production focuses mainly on Victor, Henry and the monster. Family members come and go too quickly to delineate. Victor and his fiancée share only one emotional moment before she is struck down by the fiend on stage.
What the show lacks in emotion, though, it makes up in stage combat. The creature is incredibly strong and has no qualms about battling his father/creator. Soroko, the play’s director, is also the fight director, and does an excellent job devising with some realistic struggles.
Christian Mouisset’s performance as Victor Frankenstein is low-key. His character always seems engrossed in thought, with only passing interest in his friend, Henry, and even in his fiancée.
Kalled does a wonderful job in the sidekick role. He is a passionate friend to the often-preoccupied Victor and tries hard to keep his buddy from overextending himself.
Page truly comes to life in the role of Frankenstein’s monster, but expands the creature’s scope with logic, desire and a demand for responsiveness and companionship. As a neglected child might cry for attention, the monster reaches out – often with a fist, but occasionally with a begging hand.
Frankenstein will be presented today and Saturday at 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Studio One on FAU’s Boca Raton campus. Tickets can be purchased for $22 at www.fauevents.com or by calling 561-297-6124.