Stage & Dance

SummerFest's 'Frankenstein' a sophisticated retelling of classic

Carmen Geraci plays blind De Lacey, who teaches The Creature (Nick Vannoy) to read in  Frankenstein, Bo List's adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. The play is directed by Joe Ferrell.
Carmen Geraci plays blind De Lacey, who teaches The Creature (Nick Vannoy) to read in Frankenstein, Bo List's adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. The play is directed by Joe Ferrell. Lexington Herald-Leader

Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus has captivated audiences since its debut in the early 19th century.

In the nearly two hundred years since its publication, the tale of a scientist who unwittingly creates a monster in an attempt to create life has inspired countless derivative works, from a spate of films and plays to modern feminist scholarship.

Now Lexington can claim a contribution to the list of creative works inspired by Shelley's horror story with SummerFest's production of Frankenstein, adapted by Lexington native Bo List and directed by Joe Ferrell.

A wildly atmospheric, emotionally haunting production, Frankenstein combines List's words with Ferrell's direction to frighteningly jarring effect.

Ferrell is most widely known for his direction of Shakespeare plays, and he brings a sweeping sense of Shakespearian gravitas and tragic scope to the tale's harrowing unfolding.

Like SummerFest 2009's Jekyll and Hyde, the brooding 19th-century setting and emotional melodrama made me long to see this play in a black box theater on a cold, rainy winter day. A closer viewing than most seats at The Arboretum will allow would probably be scintillating.

However, Ferrell and his cast know how to play the show "big." In fact, embracing the enormity of the tale, both in performing and in technical elements, is the bedrock of the production's success.

The scene in which the young Dr. Frankenstein, deftly played by Spencer Christensen, brings a patchwork hunk of flesh to life is one of the most dramatic crescendos of combined theater elements I have seen on a Lexington stage. For one, there are fireworks: Real explosions punctuate the storm of Danny Bowling's lighting design and Paul Manning's thunderous sound design as Frankenstein's dark scientific experiment successfully gives birth to a monstrous creation.

Nick Vannoy gives a heart-wrenching performance as The Creature.

List's adaptation admittedly takes some liberties with the plot, but his choices serve to streamline the narrative and sharpen the focus of certain themes, most notably the father/son or God/creation relationship that Christensen's and Vannoy's characters' mirror.

It is in this parent/child conflict that the show's most sophisticated and yet horrific message lies. The tale's true horror is not that the creature is ugly or even a murderer, but how much pain and anguish the simple act of being born brought to him. The longing to connect to a creator is an ancient and deep human need, and Vannoy excels at showing the creature's drive to belong versus the experience of continual rejection. He both curses and loves Frankenstein, and his campaign for revenge is born only of raw pain and the desperate need to remove it.

That so much pain could be felt, and indeed exists in many people's lives, is the play's most monstrous and enduring message.

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