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September 18, 2012 > Theatre Review: Frankenstein

Theatre Review: Frankenstein

By Jessica Noel Flohr
Photos By Dan Sparks

Humankind thrives on stories. Story telling is the vehicle for communicating values, inspiring virtuous behavior, and warning others of dangerous life paths. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a tale of warning and woe, fraught with themes of man versus God, bio-ethics, the search for love, and personal justice.

Frankenstein was written nearly 200 years ago. Mary Shelley penned this early example of science fiction at the tender age of 18. The book was allegedly the result of a challenge among fellow writers in her circle - an informal contest to see whom among their literary friends could create the most fascinating horror story. It is said that Shelly based her story on a vision she had of a scientist who was repulsed by the result of his experiments in creating life.

The main character in the story is Victor Frankenstein, an ambitious scientist conducting dark experiments in his secret laboratory. His mother died when before he went away to college; he is left with a young brother and aging father. Frankenstein is soon to be wed to his love Elizabeth, from whom he keeps his work a secret. On a dark and stormy night, one of his experiments comes to life, a hideous creature that escapes from the lab and runs off into the night.

Although "Frankenstein" is commonly applied as the name of the monster in the story, it is actually the last name of the monster's creator. Victor Frankenstein set out to create life using a human corpse, but clearly does not view his living creation as a human being, emphasizing that the monster is a thing, not a person. The monster is simply referred to as "the creature", "it", "the monster" and other dehumanizing terms.

Frankenstein hoped to advance science with his experiment reanimating human flesh but unfortunately, he winds up haunted and ultimately destroyed by his creation. The monster, resentful of being created and abandoned with no understanding of himself and the world around him, seeks vengeance upon his creator and slowly deprives him of everything that he cares for.

Shelley's Frankenstein has been adapted for the stage and is now playing at Broadway West Theatre Company. This intimate venue is perfect for a dark, scary story just before Halloween. Director Paula Chenoweth has orchestrated a chilling performance with a talented group of actors. Chuck Phelps, a top-notch presence at Broadway West, is the tormented, obsessed Victor Frankenstein; his innocent young bride is played by Jenni Gebhardt. Their chemistry on stage is clearest when Frankenstein confesses to his sweetheart of his monstrous deeds.

The theater above Bay Street Coffee had a full house on opening night. Cast and crew through many set changes, made full use of the stage. Frankenstein's lab enhanced a feeling of depth, a mad scientist's lab located in the far shadows of a dungeon. Lights flickered as an on-stage storm created a dramatic backdrop for the action. This production remained true to the heart of Shelley's story.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein continues to send valuable messages to today's audiences: defining the relationship between the Creator and his creations; control of life and death; and what truly makes someone human. This thriller is enjoyable on many levels but offers a good time as Halloween approaches!

Sept 14 - Oct 13
Thursday - Saturday: 8 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m.
Broadway West Theatre Company
4000-B Bay Street, Fremont
(510) 683-9218

Tickets $15 to 23$

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