Welcome witches and warlocks,
It starts with an invitation. A simple enticement for us to step inside, see what has been developing. We, being the good guests that we are, enter into the Doctor’s world and find ourselves plunged into a fever dream version of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN as presented by Zombie Joe’s Underground.
I make particular reference to the novel because that, and not the movies, is what serves as the source material. The cast each takes turns performing the many speeches that populate the book leading to a story that feels very close to Shelley’s intentions. Gone is the groaning behemoth; he has been replaced by the thoughtful monster that just wants to feel accepted by his creator and society. This gives the proceedings an emotional depth that many, more cinematic versions have lacked and fans of the novel will absolutely love the more accurate interpretation.
Being a fan of the novel myself, it was relatively clear to me exactly what was happening every step of the way, but I have to imagine those less familiar with Shelley’s masterpiece might find the events a little confusing. Since each of the cast gets to have one of the speaking roles, no one person is assigned to be Frankenstein or his monster. Occasionally it is made clear who is whom thanks to a simple neck tie functioning as our indicator of Doctor Frankenstein, but this was not always kept up throughout the proceedings. As the speeches are lifted directly from the novel, one can usually figure out who happens to be speaking by the context of their words, though close attention will be required from time to time.
The choreography of the piece allows the large cast to not only work in unison as required, but also to separate out to create a sense of discord. The movements are effective at creating a sense of unease or heartbreak as we watch Frankenstein and his monster deliver their sides of the story. There was a moment where they briefly took us into some of their back rooms to emphasize the chaos and carnality of the proceedings. I am of two minds about this particular scene as while I get what they were going for, it never felt as speech-based or novel based as what had occurred before or what came after. Luckily it was a short interlude of sorts so we were relatively quickly plunged back into the world of soliloquies and choreographed group work.
One issue that some theater goers may have is the nature of the cast’s movements. I say this because while we are certainly guided through much of what occurs, there are moments where the troupe moves in unpredictable ways that could lead to them colliding with guests. We were warned to be aware of our surroundings at the beginning, but I did not realize that by watching the action in one place I might be bumped into by an actor who was doing something else behind or beside me.
The technical factors like the music or lighting were right on point with what was happening before our eyes. If there was violence present, the lighting switched to red while the more suspenseful moments were backed by a tense score. Both things working in tandem did a good job of drawing the audience into the world and connecting our emotions with the events.
All in all, this is a faithful fever dream adaptation of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN that achieves a lot with a little. The choreography was wonderfully executed and with the backing of the technical factors, it was hard not to get drawn into the show. Fans of the original novel or just experimental theater in general would do well to give this show a viewing.