In a few months, Frankenstein will be one hundred and ninety three years old. Despite its age, the story continues to captivate and inspire minds. One such mind was playwright Justin Cioppa, who sought to bring a new ending to the story of Victor Frankenstein and his eternal fight with the monster of his own making. And, fortunately for me and other residents of the Cape Fear region, the Browncoat Pub & Theatre is featuring this chilling tale as their October production.
Of course, we must forgive a playwright some narcissism, as he brings the end of the narrative away from the north pole and to his native home of coastal North Carolina, although aside from one mention in one of the opening scenes, the story could of as likely been anywhere along the east coast of the United States. It is here that locals find Victor Frankenstein barely alive, washed up from a shipwreck. In his delirium, he worries over his wife Elizabeth, who was on the boat as well.
Through a series of flashbacks that harken back to the narrative style of the original novel, Frankenstein remembers his discovery of how to animate the inanimate and blatantly disregards his professor’s warning to not let his genius outrace his conscience. Frankenstein ends up killing the professor and using his body for further experimentation while his beloved Elizabeth can only wonder at what he is doing in the lab.
While Victor floats in and out of his flashbacks, the monster begins to torment the locals who are sheltering the doctor. It starts with a severed hand nailed to a door with a note: “Give me Frankenstein, and the rest of you may live.” The townsfolk will not betray their morals, though, and they hide Frankenstein in a basement with the morbidly deranged daughter of the nurse who had been tending his wounds.
The story continues to take twists and turns with flashbacks in the form of confessions from Frankenstein to the daughter, and it is soon revealed that shortly after the monster killed Elizabeth, Frankenstein had reanimated her as well. Instead of a new conscience, though, Elizabeth awoke with her memories and the understanding of what she now was and began chasing Frankenstein for revenge as well.
The play had me honestly on my seat’s edge. After the performance, I spoke with the director, Nick Smith, and he related how fun it is to work in the local theater with a story like this. The smaller stage compounds on the claustrophobic feeling of the play, as for the most part the audience is trapped in the small cabin during the storm, the same as the characters. The opening scene, an in media res moment of the monster bursting through the barricaded door, shrugging off a gunshot, and dragging one character out into the darkness, set the tone for the whole rest of the play. There would be blood, and there would be sudden shocks.
Yet, this more than just “Frankenstein does America.” Chase Harrison, the actor who portrayed Victor, is a rabid fan of the original Frankenstein and he felt a need to bring his own new take on the doctor. He argues that in Mary Shelley’s original novel, Frankenstein was much more of a tragic hero who made a mistake that haunts him. In Frankenstein is Dead, Victor has become much more consumed with his own god-like power. He has now created more than one monster, and yet just as God created man in his own image, Frankenstein’s monster is a mirror of its maker. The original monster, Chase asserts, is physically a representation of Frankenstein’s own patchwork conscience.
And while the entire cast did a wonderful job in their performances, I would be remiss to not mention Amanda Young, the actress portraying the nurse Agatha, and the female lead who eventually forces Frankenstein to meet his fate at the hands of the reanimated Elizabeth. Chase said he had lobbied for Amanda to be given a leading role, and he was not wrong in his campaign.
So, if you are in the Wilmington, NC area for some weekend this month, make sure to get down to the Browncoat and check this amazing show out. You will not disappointed.
Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and a mad scientist every third weekend of the month. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short fiction at his website linked above. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.