Frankenstein, told with contemporary wit

Luna Theater's "The Monster'

2 minute read
Lynch: How did Frankenstein resist?
Lynch: How did Frankenstein resist?
Encouraging to see what art on a shoestring can do. The six-year old Luna Theater Company continues to bring smart scripts, well performed, to the Independence Studio on Three.

Its season opener, The Monster, Neal Bell’s re-imagining of Frankenstein, plays fast and loose with Mary Shelley, but not so fast or loose that you won’t recognize its pathos or its moral scrutiny. Ninety minutes, no intermission. It’s got compassion and chills.

Bell’s update is framed in the 19th century but has a contemporary wit. No matter what you recall of the original story, it’s possible to wonder, “What next?” Under the direction of Luna founder Gregory Campbell, the cast is up to the script. There are moments of stasis and confusion in the opening scene, but once things get going— past the flashback of Victor Frankenstein, wandering the Arctic, where he is discovered by the ship captain Walton— things go smoothly.

Dan Hodge plays the self-absorbed scientist, a Frankenstein whose cowardice and fear override his misdoings. Christopher Bohan portrays the doctor’s staunch friend Henry Clerval and also takes the role of Walton. This double casting isn’t so effective because Bohan’s characterizations are insufficiently varied, so it’s hard to remember who is he from scene to scene. But a homoerotic element added to Clerval’s affection for the doctor does work; it deepens Clerval’s two-dimensional character a bit.

As Elizabeth, Melissa Lynch is so engaging that it’s hard to see how Frankenstein postpones his fiancée’s charms. Mary Lee Bednarek gives Justine a persuasive edginess; Bednarek acts the role of Frankenstein’s mother too, a character deceased in Shelley’s original and here not so much saintly as irritable. The gifted Gene D’Alessandro is also double-cast as the senior Frankenstein, to which he brings a fine dry wit, and an imposing officer at sea.

John Lopes makes a maverick Monster. He’s a big guy with more bulk than might be expected but appropriately huge hands and beautiful projection. (He’s been working in Philadelphia for a decade, including the role of George Washington for the American Historical Theater troupe.) Lopes portrays the creature with so much aplomb that you almost wish he could find a mate. He evokes the compassion that Shelley wrote into Frankenstein’s creature without forgetting what needs to be quashed.

One prop, good lighting and sound design sustain The Monster’s set, while Lena Mucchetti’s makeup errs on the side of understatement, which is better than otherwise. But it might be a good idea to sharpen Dr. Frankenstein’s cosmetics (subtly) and the Creature’s. Those two and even Clerval were all so pale, they must have been using the same foundation: ivory. Millie Hiibel’s costumes work well. I don’t want to give away Monster’s ending, but it’s a good one.

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