At Central Square, a ‘Frankenstein’ we never knew
CAMBRIDGE – Creature, we never really knew ye.
Director David R. Gammons has used Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” as a template to explore the timeless tale of a creature brought to life not by a God but by a scientist, and what can happen when man intrudes upon the natural order of the world.
And, unlike the other creatures of stage, film and TV, this “Frankenstein” not only lives and breathes, but learns and reasons, and has a complex palette of feelings and emotions.
As such, he is a more interesting but no less dangerous being, capable of violence when wronged and angered but also capable of determining its own wants and needs.
”Frankenstein” is another in a long line of productions at Central Square Theater in the Catalyst Collaborative @ MIT series, this time a co-production of the two resident theater companies, the Nora Theatre Company and the Underground Railway Theatre. The vast majority have been engaging, thought-provoking and entertaining.
This is a multi-layered, stylized production, the production values in tune with Gammons’ complex vision of the creature as the ultimate “other,” rejected not only his creator, who abandons him soon after his creation, but society at large.
John Kuntz as Victor Frankenstein is brilliant but obsessed, at work in his lab unaware of the anguish and torment his work will unleash, and the eventual destruction it will wreak on him and his loved ones.
The entire ensemble – Kuntz, Remo Airaldi, David Keohane, Ashley Risteen, Omar Robinson, and Debra Wise – will be part of the creature at some point, with all joining together for a disorienting start as the “birth” of the creature, as they become a groaning, screeching jumble of semi-humanity.
In Gammons’ view, it is building the creature with individual bodies just as Victor built his creature form unconnected parts. Point taken, but in this case less would be more.
The actors will be called upon to step away from the creature at some point to take on other roles.
Remo Airaldi shines in two turns: First, as Delacey, a poor blind man in a remote farmhouse who can’t fear a creature he can’t see, and he teaches the creature to read, write, and care for others, shaping a monster into a sentient being, albeit once who knows rejection is just as close as the next sighted person, and that rejection can take the form of stoning or other physical attack, and that violence will beget violence.
He also plays M. Frankenstein, Victor’s father, dismayed at the death and destruction his son has conjured up with his experiments.
Ashley Risteen is the loving daughter of Delacey, later the female creature Victor builds to meet the needs of his first creation, and later still as the loving and long-suffering fiancee Elizabeth, mystified by Victor’s long and unexplained absences and innocently wondering what his creature is like. “Is it a puppet?” She asks him at one point.
In such a technically-challenging production, Stage Manager Renee E. Yancey’s role becomes that much more important. The other members of the team are right there with her.
Cristina Todesco’s set design is a two-level container of glass and steel built on steel beams that ride from stage to ceiling, with open side walls on hinges to reveal what’s going on inside to the audience members sitting on opposite sides. A ladder allows access to the second level, where Victor has his lab and where he can be seen working as the audiences enters before the production begins.
Rachel Padula has outfitted the players in what looks like white jumpsuits, with kneepads for the times they are crawling around on stage as part of the creature, and clothes racks on both ends of the stage where players can quickly don garments as they change roles. The evocative lighting by Jeff Adelberg and dramatic, moody sound design by David Wilson are just as important.
“Frankenstein” still revolves around the themes that Shelley first wrote about more than 200 years ago, but we have, in Gammons’ bold new look, added a modern perspective about “strange creatures” different from ourselves who are arriving from who knows where, feeling the pain of being cast as “the other” in society.
It also begs the question: Just who is the monster here?
The Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theatre production of “Frankenstein.” Written by Nick Dear, from the novel by Mary Shelley. Directed by David R. Gammons. At the Central Square Theater through Nov. 4, centralsquaretheater.org