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THEATER REVIEW: Frankenstein

Of Monsters and Men: Rediscovering the angry child at the heart of a classic story

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Frankenstein
Produced by Charleston Stage
Oct. 23-25, 30-Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 and 26, 3 p.m.
$22-$29
Memminger Auditorium
56 Beaufain St.
(843) 559-4109
www.charlestonstage.com

The wrong we do before we even know ourselves damns us just the same.

Both Victor Frankenstein (played by Andy McCain) and the monster he creates (Michael Lasris, in a top-notch performance) come to know this all too well before the two of them meet their end in the frozen wastes of the Arctic.

It's a story that at first glance we all believe we know: a scientist gone mad steals fire from the gods (in the form of a lightning storm) and reanimates a hideous body sewn together from parts dug out of graves.

For this stage adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic ghost story, however, playwright Julian Wiles stripped the tale down to its bare essence and in so doing rediscovered both the man within the monster and the angry child within the man.

The world premiere, at the Memminger Auditorium, was an exceptionally well-produced event. The thrust stage format (in which the audience surrounds the players on three sides) worked especially well for the intimate moments and backstory was silhouetted on the backstage.

Moments of humor, and much innocence, in the early days of the creature both rounded out the story and showcased Lasris's considerable acting chops.

But redemption, for the creature, is only a mirage in the distance. He is soon put back on his ultimate path, and that path sets him directly against his creator. Once he is set in this direction, the retribution is relentless.

Victor Frankenstein is maneuvered into bloodying his own hands by giving testimony against an innocent governess (Viveka Chandrasekaran) who is a long-time friend of the family. She is executed, on his word, for a crime she did not commit.

In this way, the monster helps him understand what it feels like to realize that actions you did not understand have caused irreparable harm.

He also teaches him what it's like to live without love. The story of a lumbering monster turns out to be a deeply complex tangle of parent and child, creator and created, and the judgments of a world that all too often does not care to look beneath scars.

Jason A. Zwiker, a Charleston journalist, blogs at zwiker.blogspot.com.

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