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“Frankenstein” at STC-A Different Look at the Monster

Sacramento Theatre Company opened its 2011-2012 season this weekend with one of the most classic horror stories ever told, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. While Shelley’s work is well known and countless screen and stage adaptations have been made of the story the one being told here is from little different angle. The play is by a prolific playwright Tim Kelly who wrote dramatizations to several Mary Shelley stories as well as stories of other writers.

All the basic elements are here. The brilliant young scientist who literally stitches together a creature out of graveyard spare parts. The creature who then escapes and wreaks havoc all over the countryside. There is the doctor’s best friend and fellow doctor who is too intrigued about the possibility of creating life for his own good. There is also Dr. Frankenstein’s household – mother, wife and housekeeper – all threatened by the monster to punish the doctor.

What is missing is the monster coming alive on the table. He has long been alive and causing the most punishing damage for the doctor when the play starts. Also missing are the townspeople with pitchforks and torches.

The big and surprising difference in Kelly’s dramatization is the monster himself. This monster knows what a great wrong has been done in creating him and is very articulate about it. He also knows how effective he can be at threatening Dr. Frankenstein and those around him.

The play opens in 1816, the year when Shelley began writing “Frankenstein”, at the Frankenstein chateau on the shore of Lake Geneva In Switzerland. The young Dr. Frankenstein has sought shelter there from the monster he created at medical school and to contemplate what he has done. He soon learns that his monster is the one who killed his 10 year old younger brother, the first act by the monster to punish the doctor.

William Elsman plays the title character. This is the third show for Elsman at STC. He was excellent as Sherlock Holmes in last season’s production “The Final Adventure” and appeared as Mrs. Badden Rotten in the last STC production of “Cinderella.” As with his portrayal of Holmes, Elsman with his tall, slender, dark, handsome good looks and brooding demeanor embodies the character.

William Elsman as Victor Frankenstein

Popular local actor and Sacramento native, Jerry Lee, plays Henry, Frankenstein’s friend and fellow scientist. Lee is great as the scientist who just can’t collect enough data on the creature. Alas we don’t get to hear Lee’s great singing voice in this production as we did at STC last year as Billy in “Musical of Musicals : The Musical!” or his exceptional performance as Marvin in the Graham-A-Rama staged singing of “In Trousers.”

William Elsman as Victor Frankenstein & Jerry Lee as Henry Clerval

The astounding performance here is by Ed Gyles Jr. as the monster. Gyles creates an overall sympathetic character out of one that has done so much evil and threatens to do more. He spoke with me after the show about the great deal of time that he and director Michael Laun spent working together to create this complex character. To learn more about this three time Elly Award nominee click here.

Longtime Sacramento actor and Sacramento News and Review film critic Jim Lane plays the perquisite Inspector-General of police, Ernst.

The four women’s roles, while played by good actors, primarily support the roles of the three primary characters. Their main job is not understanding what is going on with the Dr. or being endangered by the creature. Susan Andrews plays the elder Frau Frankenstein, the doctor’s mother. Brittany Barger plays the younger Frau Frankenstein, the doctors wife. Linda Montalvo plays their housekeeper.

Justine, the gypsy girl that witnessed the murder of the youngest Frankenstein is played by two 5th year students of STC’s Young Professionals Conservatory. Kristal Celink 16, is a junior and Miriam Gilbert a senior at Rio Americano High School.

A hallmark of the horror genre is that it is supposed to scare the audience. Director Michael Laun’s staging creates points where the audience strongly reacts to something scary they didn’t see coming.

All the action takes place in Victor Frankenstein’s beautiful study with good illusion to what takes place outside the study. Jarrod Bodensteiner now in his fourth season with STC has created another beautiful room nicely lit by Jessica Bertine.

Jessica Minnihan dressed the cast  in fine period costumes.  Folks dressed much better then, especially well to do doctors and their family.  Minnihan aslo did a fine job on the monster’s makeup.  

Sound is an important element of horror and William Myers sound design supplies all the creepy sounds that mean “something bad is going to happen.”

There are lots of levels to enjoy Sacramento Theatre Company’s current production of “Frankenstein.” You can ponder what the monster has to say about his fate. You can laugh at the ironic humor of the situation. Or you can just sit there and wait for the scares.

  

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