Theater Review: FRANKENSTEIN (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Theater Wit)

Post image for Theater Review: FRANKENSTEIN (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Theater Wit)

by Lawrence Bommer on October 19, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


Creating a Halloween story for all seasons in a novel that launched a terror genre, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley named Dr. Victor Frankenstein the “modern Prometheus” (the monster, among other deprivations, has no name). It’s a sardonic slam at this very debatable benefactor for making this re-animator of dead flesh the 1816 equivalent of the bringer of fire to humankind.

Two hundred and two years later, the Undead keep coming: With the advent of artificial intelligence, there’s new “life” for Shelley’s Regency-era cautionary tale against playing God by simulating existence. And, as with cyberbots and robots, we won’t heed the warning when we need it most. (Next android, please…)

Mrs. Shelley’s admonition returns, powerfully and cleanly, in Remy Bumppo’s Frankenstein, fueled by Nick Dear’s trenchantly faithful adaptation (one of three versions of the legend to play Chicago theaters this scary fall). In 105 potent minutes we encounter the story in mid-passage — no laboratory folderol here with flashing electric coils and lightning strikes. As much as the source allows, Dear tells it from the supposed monster’s point of view. To emphasize that flexibility, in Ian Frank’s staging, Frankenstein and his creation are played alternatively by Remy Bumppo artistic director Nick Sandys and esteemed company member Greg Matthew Anderson. (The 2011 world premiere, which had Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller switching roles, screens in cinemas occasionally via National Theatre Live.)

True to its origins, Frankenstein spins out a protracted tale of inevitable payback (“I sweep to my revenge!”). The Creature (a strangely vulnerable, constantly keening Anderson) is increasingly isolated by the horror he triggers in all who see this spliced-together being and by his own need for a mate.

Frankenstein’s walking dead provides his own voice-over, a pitiable narrative. We see him find shelter in the only place possible, the hovel of a blind man named De Lacey (Frank Nall). His conditional kindness will briefly stay the Creature’s wrath. (It’s sweet how our Creature learns to repay gratuitous mercy with similar favors, clearing the stones from De Lacey’s fields.) But De Lacey’s children (Jose Nateras and Iyreika Guest) are not blind and will renew the Creature’s exile.

Soon C’s quest for accountability — to find his maker (Sandys) in Geneva and get a mate — forces this abandoned biped to seek out his source. He will demand a female to make sense of his existence.

But, despite help from two serviceable body-snatchers, Frankenstein fails in a second reanimation. Victor’s inability to duplicate his freak show will unleash a killing spree that claims his brother William (Ben Miller) and his fiancée (and cousin) Elizabeth (Eliza Stoughton, who also plays The Bride). The serial killings extend from Switzerland (Geneva) to Austria (Ingolstadt) to England (Oxford) to a final reckoning in the northern wastes of the Orkney Islands (Scotland). The program contains a helpful map of the Creature and Victor’s parallel paths.

The plot purposefully thickens: For Mary Shelley having a child was as great a challenge as finding love from a wayward poet. The Creature — her “creation” more than Victor’s — likewise destroys that dream for Elizabeth, perhaps the author’s surrogate.

Along the way — and easily the reason for Dear’s superior treatment — we see a monster who, like the morphing sea-god Proteus, seeks to assume the shapes of everyone around him in order to fit in. Even harder, Creature wants to figure out, not just his easily explained misfit fever, but humankind’s hypocrisy, jealousy and wrath. “Only you give me purpose,” cries this weaponized Caliban to his fabricator. But this mad scientist can only ape life, not give it meaning, and he must pay for that with his own.

Practicing magic on a sterile stage, Joe Schermoly’s minimal set uses converging mountain silhouettes to great effect. and Mike Durst’s pitiless lighting isolates the irreversible steps of inexorable vengeance. The rest belongs to Franks’ eleven skilled performers, picture perfect as they serve their script.

None shift shapes better than the very pliable Anderson and Sandys, dueling “fathers” and “sons.” Sandys’ anguished demonic tinkerer registers all the guilt that the Manhattan Project gave Robert Oppenheimer, knowing that you’ve opened a Pandora’s box that can never be closed. Flailing about or simply stunned with reinventing everything, Anderson is affectingly child-like as an entity who learns about us all too well.

Halloween — and Día de los Muertos — just regained a whole new worth.

photos by Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Wed-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2:30 (add’l matinees Oct. 20, Nov 3 & 8 at 2:30)
ends on November 17, 2018
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit Remy Bumppo

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

Leave a Comment