Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Horror of Frankenstein

Despite being perhaps the most famous story of them all, Frankenstein is one of those books that tends to take readers by surprise. Expecting a horrific tale full of action and suspense, they instead find a book filled with pages of philosophical thought. And despite there being movie adaptation after adaptation of the story, most of them focus on the physical scene of bringing the creature to life rather than on all of the philosophical thought (not to say that they don't include it at all; they just put the focus on the action).

Southwest Shakespeare Company is currently performing Quinn Mattfeld's adaptation of Frankenstein. He is part of the new artistic director team of the company. What this production, directed by Patrick Walsh, sought to present was a balance between the action and horror that modern audiences expect from this story and the philosophical elements that Mary Shelley herself wrote in her novel. They allowed the story to get a little dark and spooky at times to go for that Halloweentime feel and they also kept in passages of deep thought about life and death and creation and science and experimentation.

Now, I did overhear someone commenting that the play, while extremely well-acted, was a bit choppy. I did also get the overall sense that much of the audience, if they had read the novel at all, didn't really remember much from it. So what someone else might have found as choppy, I found as their way of balancing out these two elements of the story and keeping it from being a flat, monotone, philosophical piece. I should here note that I'm not calling Shelley's novel flat or boring. Far from it; it's a wonderful work. It's just what we would today call "slow," which doesn't necessarily lend itself towards something like a movie or a play today. And that is, of course, why most of the adaptations take such a different focus.

There was, certainly, more narration in this play than there tends to be in plays. Yet the way that scenes were played out kept things moving. The lighting, too, helped to create that sense of drama and weight and also to express the violence of certain scenes (like Mary's death) that couldn't necessarily be played out live. Joshua Murphy once again ruled the stage as the Creature, playing both the newly-created childlike figure and the classically-educated man. Jesse James Kamps as Dr. Frankenstein brought the obsession of a man fully bent on a project and the true horror of a man faced with a situation to which he can see no solution.

That's the horror of Frankenstein, isn't it? Creation is part of life and death is part of life and creation unleashes a whole new world of possible occurrences which you cannot predict.

You still have two more chances to catch Frankenstein; it's running through this Saturday at the Mesa Arts Center.

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