By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
It’s amazing to think of how many stage, film and TV adaptations have been made of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. (I counted over 80 on IMBD.) And even more startling to realize that almost none of them actually had anything to do with Mary Shelley. (Even the Kenneth Branagh version which, though called Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, wasn’t really. And, as a side note, guess who played the Creature in that one? DeNiro!)
Frankenstein continues through November 10. Bricolage, Downtown. www.BricolagePGH.org. 412/471-0999.
The problem all began in 1931 with James Whale directing the Universal Studios’ version with an iconic Boris Karloff in the role of the Creature. In 1935 Whale and Karloff teamed up again for Bride of Frankenstein and the legend was set. When we think about Frankenstein these days that’s the image we think of.
But meanwhile back in 1816 Mary, her future hubby Percy Shelley and that infamous roué Lord Byron were sitting around one rainy day in Byron’s Geneva villa (as you do) and perhaps out of boredom more than anything else they made a bet to see who could write the best horror story.
Mary comes up with the tale of a scientist who creates a new being out of scraps from the dead. When he rejects his creation the Creature vows revenge and pretty soon everybody ends up dead. There are no neck bolts, forked lightening, Igor … just a very turgid tale written as only those 19th century Romantics could write it.
Bricolage Production Company throws in its two cents with a version adapted by Tami Dixon and presented as part of their Midnight Radio Series.
For those not in the know, this series presents staged readings of shows (where actors perform reading from scripts) as though they are being broadcast on the radio. Usually the offerings are fun and goofy – as I’m sure their Christmas installment Die Hard N’at will be. And while a campy, spoofy Frankenstein isn’t unheard of (“It’s Fronkenstein!”) Dixon and Bricolage take the more serious, somber route and present as close an adaptation of the Shelley original as an hour-long stage-reading format can allow.
And it works. There’s a reason movie and TV shows stray from Shelley; it’s got an awful lot of emotional anguish and self-torment going on … when all you really want is the horror. Because this fleet Dixon version is, by design, severally truncated, we get a jolting taste of Shelley without wallowing in too much purple-prosed turgidity.
Jefferey Carpenter handily directs an agile cast of top-notch performers. Brett Goodnack plays Victor Frankenstein and, as he did so remarkably with Bricolage’s 1984, creates a fully realized and tortured character using just his voice. In that he’s joined by Cotter Smith as The Creature. Because we’ve seen so little in the past of the actual “monster” Shelley wrote, Smith has a blank canvas of sorts and he summons up a being of intense pain, infused with loss and fueled by rage. Jamie Agnello, Parag S. Gohel and Maura Underwood are also on hand providing strong support.
Musical director Deana Muro and the “band”, local group Cello Fury, supply the at-times fun and other-times moody underscoring rounding out an intriguing and entertaining look at an old classic.