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Frankenstein

Forget the cinematic excesses of a green monster with electrodes protruding from his neck, which Mary Shelley—the author of the book (arguably the first science fiction story) on which the Hollywood horror movie was based—would gladly jetison as well, and experience the scary and thoughtful original story, which was written in response to a challenge she took up along with her famous husband, the poet Percy Shelley, their friend and notable poet, Lord Byron, and Byron's physician, John William Polidori (whose entry, The Vampyre, began its own genre).

Sullivan Jones as The Creature and Mark Junek as Victor Frankenstein
Sullivan Jones as The Creature and
Mark Junek as Victor Frankenstein
Photo: AdamsVisCom.
In the current production, adapted by Nick Dear for the National Theatre in London (2011) and now running on the main stage of the Denver Center Theatre Company, The Creature and Victor Frankenstein (Mark Junek and Sullivan Jones exchange roles on alternate evenings) force us to examine the Romantic movement's notions on the limits of science, as well as existential questions that Shelley borrows from Milton's Paradise Lost.

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?
—John Milton, Paradise Lost (X, 7435)

Mark Junek as The Creature and Sullivan Jones as Victor Frankstein
Mark Junek as The Creature and
Sullivan Jones as Victor Frankstein
Photo: AdamsVisCom.
On the night we attended, Mark Junek played The Creature and Sullivan Jones, who is African-American, played Victor Frankenstein, so the race issue, as played up in some of the publicity for the production, was never really a factor, particularly considering that African-Americans are well represented in the rest of the ensemble; and frankly, this was never Shelley's intent; rather, the questions raised are—as noted in the Milton passage and quoted by The Creature in the play—existential, between The Creator and the created (Adam), in Milton's version, and between Victor Frankenstein and The Creature, in Shelley's version, and as such add immeasurably to the universality of the drama.

Mark Junek as The Creature and Kevin McGuire as De Lacey
Mark Junek as The Creature
and Kevin McGuire as De Lacey
Photo: AdamsVisCom.
Junek is stunning as The Creature, evolving before our eyes from an instinct-dependent and speechless animal to an analytical, articulate, and sentient being, who offers some salient advice to his creator. Junek's expressive attempts at communication and introductory language are incredibly convincing, as are his later observations and his pain at being shunned. Jones captures Victor's passion for his work, as well as his growing doubts, which gradually erode his confidence in the transcendence of science, just as Shelley, as a Romanticist, would have it, with Nature, not science and industrialization, being the guiding light.

Jenny Leona as Elizabeth Lavenza and Sullivan Jones as Victor Frankenstein
Jenny Leona as Elizabeth Lavenza
and Sullivan Jones as Victor Frankenstein
Photo: AdamsVisCom.
Dear's one-act, 77-minute adaptation builds through several strong crescendos, as The Creature explores his power and Victor wrestles with the repercussions of his deed. The ensemble is full of sound performances: particularly Kevin McGuire as De Lacey, the wise old blind man that befriends and teaches the creature, and as Victor's father, whose admonitions go unheeded; and Jenny Leona, as Victor's kind and patient fiancée, Elizabeth Lavenza.

Another star of the show is the design work: Jason Sherwood's set flexes from highly symbolic to realistic depending on the content of the book, with Brian Tovar's lighting subtly drawing our focus, and Curtis Craig's moody sound design and original music keeping us on edge.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's presentation of Frankenstein, directed by Sam Buntrock, runs through October 30th. For tickets: denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows



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