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Central Square Theater’s ‘Frankenstein’ Offers a Fresh, Yet Faithful, Interpretation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece

Central Square Theater’s “Frankenstein”
Ashley Risteen, Omar Robinson, John Kuntz, Debra Wise, and Remo Airaldi in “Frankenstein.”
Frankenstein is not the monster. Not literally, anyway — the actual creature remains nameless throughout novel. He also doesn’t have green skin, a rectangular forehead, nor bolts sticking out of his neck. The prevailing representations of Frankenstein often depart from Mary Shelley’s novel, especially in the context of Halloween camp. Central Square Theater’s “Frankenstein,” which will be playing from Oct. 4 to Nov. 4, largely forgoes these misconceptions and closely examines Shelley’s story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his creation — but with some unusual twists.

Catalyst Collaborative@MIT’s production brings artists from the Underground Railway Theater and the Nora Theatre Company together with scientists from MIT to present plays that deal with science and technology. Fittingly, scholars often interpret Shelley’s work as a cautionary response to 19th century scientific advances, which makes the story more relevant than ever in a time when personal technology has an unfathomably strong grasp on each of our lives. Although Shelley first published “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus” exactly two centuries ago, director David R. Gammonds and playwright Nick Dear have adapted the story in order to best reflect its chilling relevance to modern day.

Gammonds’ directorial choice to have all six actors play the Creature adds depth and insight to Shelley’s story. Each versatile actor in “Frankenstein” portrays multiple characters: One or more human characters, as well as the Creature. Three to five actors play the monster at any given time, all swaying together in a collectively tortured and violent blob. This suggests that everyone has a little of the Creature inside of them, emphasizing the hypocrisy of the human characters who reject him. While popular scholarly interpretations posits Dr. Frankenstein as the only monster, Gammonds goes beyond this to paint the other humans in the novel such as the Delacey family as brutes, emphasizing their cruelty towards the Creature, even though the family acts as if they are simply victims of the Creature’s violence.

The costume design in “Frankenstein” also strives to represent the Creature that resides within all of us. Throughout the play, the actors wear all white, but when they portray humans, they wear an article of neon clothing — perhaps a futuristic dress or fluorescent shawl — on top of their white outfits. This suggests that the only difference between the monster and the humans that persecute him is a superficial piece of fabric, adding a slightly heavy-handed layer of richness to the story.

While Dear’s adapted script modernizes the novel, it lacks the work’s sophistication. Dear changed the plot of “Frankenstein” in a variety of ways, such as Dr. Frankenstein creating a female monster and changing the relationship between Agatha and Felix to that of lovers rather than siblings. For the most part, these changes do not interfere with the true story of the novel “Frankenstein.” What disrupted the story instead was the loss of Shelley’s graceful, flowery prose into a dumbed down translation from the page to the stage, such that the Creature’s coming-of-age felt a bit contrived and melodramatic and the relationship between Agatha and Felix resembled a corny rom-com. The play lost all the wonderful elements that make the original such an iconic gothic novel.

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“Frankenstein” combined an extremely accessible script with a comparatively abstract and avant-garde presentation to create a production that enhanced some understandings of Shelley’s novel, but failed to live up to the original in terms of style. However, this production reflects impressive thoughtfulness in interpreting this novel on a level far above the typical “Frankenstein” Halloween play.

—Staff writer Danielle Eisenman can be reached at danielle.eisenman@thecrimson.com.

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