Herr Frankenstein, the doctor and the monster, has fascinated playwrights and filmmakers since the book was first published in 1818. The essence of Mary Shelley’s novel is the confrontation between creator and created.
The questions swirling around the novel’s conflicts of nature vs nurture, good vs evil and the healing power of parental love vs neglect continue to be hot societal issues nearly two centuries later.
Midcoast Actors’ Studio tackles the show with verve in the first production launched at the Crosby School since the National Theatre for the Handicapped went dark in the late 2000s. The set, lights and costumes along with the lead performances soar above the quality of most community theater in Maine but the production is bogged down by a badly structured script penned by director Erik Perkins.
There’s a reason none of the famous plays or films include Shelley’s literary device that frames her Frankenstein story between a prologue and an epilogue at sea — it’s dreadfully dull. The sea captain and his crew to whom Dr. Victor Frankenstein tells his story are unnecessary. The fact that creator pursues creature across the ice toward the North Pole is enough without a shipful of suffering sailors in-between the audience and the heart of the tale.
Perkins’ script also contains too many short scenes which require set changes that stop the action cold. Rather than sitting on the edge of their seats anticipating the final confrontation, theatergoers sighed Friday night with relief when the doctor and his monster faced off for the final time.
While Perkins’ skills as a playwright may need honing, his directorial style is first rate. He moves his cast agilely around the complex set that puts the laboratory high above Frankenstein’s living room and gets the most out of his actors emotionally.
Tyler Johnstone portrays Victor Frankenstein as a man ahead of his time, far smarter than those around him. Johnstone embraces the doctor’s obsessive/compulsive side and turn him into a man driven to destroy his creation and himself. The actor’s energy is infectious.
As the Creature, Eric Sanders, a tall, willowy man who serves on Belfast’s City Council, creates a physically menacing man, misunderstood by all. Sanders gives the so-called monster a large heart that shrinks with each and every barbarity inflicted on him by civilized man.
The scenes in which the doctor confronts his creation are exhilarating and pin theatergoers to their seats not because they are so well written but because Johnstone and Sanders so inhabit their characters and believe totally in what they say to each other.
In supporting roles, Julia Clapp as Elizabeth, Victor’s fiancee, Gwen Elise Higgins as the devoted family servant Justine, and Dakota Wing as Victor’s best friend Henry Clerval, are equally fine. Wing, who bears a striking resemblance to television star David Boreanaz, is an excellent foil for Frankenstein. His fight with the creature is heart stopping thanks to its excellent choreography and execution.
In smaller roles, Matt Shelton as young Victor and the boy William and Linda Leppanen as the short-lived bride for the monster are delightful. Shelton, who is 14-year-old, is a natural. His portrayal of the young Dr. Frankenstein gives Tyler Johnstone’s portrayal more depth than it would have had without the young teen’s insightful performance. Leppanen comes alive with a vengeance. In her brief appearance, she convinces the audience that this Bride is the creature’s perfect match.
The costumes, designed by Elaine Bielenberg in the steampunk style, are sensuous and sumptuous. Elizabeth’s ornate wedding gown is a showstopper as are the layers worn by the sailing crew stuck in the Arctic Ocean.
John Bielenberg designed a visually lush but workable set and Joe Wassam designed Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. It is full of found objects and looks like it was created out of a hodgepodge of wires, gears, boxes and tubes. It is visually captivating. The creature emerges from a pod rather than rising off a table which increases the impact that first glimpse of the creature has on the audience.
This show has a top notch cast, with the leads and supporting players giving professional performances. Technically, it stands head and shoulders above the average community theater show in Maine. Everyone involved in this production of “Frankenstein” deserves a first rate script like the one Nick Dear wrote in 2011 from the monster’s perspective.
“Frankenstein” runs through Oct. 29 at the Crosby School, 96 Church Street, Belfast. For more information, call 370-7592 or visit midcoastactors.org.