Central Kentucky is home to the revival of a monster. Or, in more PC terminology, a "creature," as Frankenstein is known in local playwright Bo List's dramatic adaptation of Mary Shelley's iconic novel of the same name — with nods to other Frankenstein variations woven throughout.
List was commissioned to adapt the work for the stage by Kentucky Conservatory Theatre for its Summerfest 2011 season, where it premiered with Nick Vannoy in the lead role.
Three years, a few script tweaks, and a handful of productions at theaters around the country later, the creature is back on Bluegrass soil, opening at the Woodford Theatre this weekend and running for the entire month of October, including special Halloween performances.
Part of what has made List's adaptation attractive to theaters and audiences is not just the instant recognition of a revived classic in the horror genre, but the deeper questions the show asks.
"For those people who wanna come out and do Halloween and see the costumes and the blood and the murders, that's all there," says director Patti Heying. "But there are so many deeper levels to this play and to these characters. It's not just a thrill ride. I think people are going to be very moved by these characters."
Robert Parks Johnson takes on the role of the creature in this production. He says that he saw and enjoyed the world premiere production at Summerfest and is excited about how the show will play very differently in an indoor theater space as opposed to an outdoor venue.
"We are able to play much more intimately," says Johnson. "We're able to make choices that are much more delicate than you can make in the park," Johnson says. "We're able to make much more intimate choices, and I think the ensemble play is going to be much more apparent to the audience. We have a lot more control over our environment."
Director Heying says, "We can envelop the audience into the story of the play physically. The actors can run down the aisles, they can come up from behind — the audience becomes part of the production."
Technical design also plays a big role in this production, which has a strong steampunk aesthetic. Steampunk draws heavily on Victorian-era dress, design and pre-electric technology, but is not necessarily set in the 19th century.
"I sat down with (costume designer) Missy Johnston, and she mentioned the idea of steampunk design for the costumes and I liked that," Heying says. "We went in that direction and everything fell into place, which really works because the majority of the play is a memory piece. I wanted it to be reminiscent of the period but it didn't have to stay completely true of the time period."
The steampunk design also frees the female cast from burdensome period costumes so that they can bring more physicality to their roles.
Another design dilemma to solve was the appearance of the creature. Eric Seale designed the makeup for Vannoy in 2011 and returned to design Johnson's makeup for the Woodford production.
"Something that Eric is doing with the makeup is that all these scars and horrible disfigurements heal over time so by the end of the play, the experiment was pretty much a success — he (Victor) has created the superman that he was trying to," Johnson says.
It is likely that this latest incarnation of List's adaptation will become the official version for future productions, at least in terms of the script itself. List has made revisions with each production, and has turned in a final version to Dramatic Publishing Company, which has offered to license the play. As List awaits edits from his publisher, he'll get to see familiar faces bring it to life once again.
"It's marvelous," List says. "Some of my very favorite actors from the area were in both productions. Those characters lived so long in my head in whatever coffee shop I was in, so when I hear people saying these lines, it's either what I envisioned or if it's not, it's usually even better."