This is half Required Viewing, and half of the first official entry in our “Classy AF” series, in which we do things that are elegant and classy and mostly British. They might involve afternoon tea or the opera, and they’ll definitely include Victoria Sponge at some point.
We start at the theatre, specifically the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ presentation of Frankenstein. This is an adaptation of the classic story I already wrote about in comparison to the screening of Young Frankenstein we recently attended. I went to one version of the play in which Sullivan Jones played the Creature and Mark Junek played Dr. Frankenstein. Brooke hadn’t seen it, and I wanted to see the other version, with Jones as Frank and Junek as Creature.
Brooke, start us off! What did you think of the play? When’s the last time you watched a live performance? And why do you think I wanted to see the actors in their opposite roles?
B: The last live performance I saw was this summer. It was Newsies at the Buell and it was all I could do not to sing along all night. “Try Bottle Alley or the Harbor. … Try Central Park it’s guaranteed.” So it hasn’t been all that long since I’ve been to the theatre. It’s also worth noting this isn’t my first classic monster story on the stage. Some years ago, I saw the Dracula ballet. Yes, it was as rad as it sounds. But on to the show of the day. Frankenstein. I really enjoyed this take. You know I am a sucker for a bit of a spin on a classic, and I like the idea of watching the Creature develop from bewildered to full-on murder-y plot-y guy. (Spoiler alert, I guess).
This was my first time at the Stage Theatre, and I was really taken with it. The titular stage is a commanding presence and this production made exceptionally great use of the space at its disposal. This lended both fluidity and intimacy to the story, which I found powerfully engaging. And though both of the male leads were good, I have to say my absolute favorite was the excitable old professor who acts as the Creature’s mentor. The exchanges between those two characters tickled all of my nerdy senses. I just want that professor to be my grandfather or something, he was rad. I also think these sessions were a key factor in The Creature picking up a real flair for drama, which was my second favorite thing about this play. I love that he was full on monologuing on several occasions. There was something a bit Buffy-ied about him, think, The Master, but more chilling.
Now, I expect you wanted to see the actors reverse roles to see how (and if) it would change the viewing experience for you. So tell me, did one of them feel a more natural Creature than the other? Was one more at home in the intellectual shoes? Was your first watch of this production after we watched Black Swan? Cause, ultimately what I’m asking here, could either of them manage to dance the Swan Queen?
A: First of all, I love the allusion to The Master. There’s something so sinister yet entertaining about a villain who monologues. I do think there’s less inherent humor in the DCPA Frankenstein production than there ever was in an episode of Buffy, but there’s bits and pieces. Like you alluded to, the old professor and the Creature do have some moments that spark with wit. The Stage Theatre is one of my favorite venues to watch a live show. The drop floor allows for some amazing surprise moments that we can go ahead and spoil because the show has closed its run in Denver. For one, the Creature showing up under Elizabeth’s bed in the penultimate scene drew horrified gasps from the audience both times I saw it.
Which leads me to the main point of dragging Brooke along to see Frankenstein. Overall, the two actors play the two parts remarkably similarly, lending their bodies to The Creature with physical pain and anguish in the beginning, morphing him into a sinister n’er-do-well by the end with a calculated cruelness learned from his Creator and the world around him. He is driven out, shunned, stoned and ostracized, so he must do what he feels he needs to do to survive. All he wants is love, and he’s denied that on more than one occasion. Imagine how things would be different for him if he had only been shown some compassion and mercy. The professor does actually show him great kindness, but he is blind and as soon as his son and daughter-in-law see the Creature, he is driven yet again out, and the pain of it causes him to retaliate with murder.
And the two actors also play Frankenstein similarly. The lines are the same, and their awkward genius and lack of empathy are in stunning contrast to the Creature. Who is the monster and who is the man? Is it possible to actually create a living, breathing, “real” person? We were catching up on HBO’s Westworld this week as well, and I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between this story and that. Both wrestle with the power humans have to create life. We know too much, they both argue, and that will be our ultimate downfall.
To pick a preferred performance would be difficult, as both are nuanced and the talents of both actors (as well as the supporting cast and crew) are unquestionable. I think I might prefer Jones as the Creature, if only because it was the first one I saw. Brooke, what say you on the performances? Other than the afore-mentioned professor and Creature interactions, what did you think of the roles as you saw them? Will you now feel pressured to actually read Paradise Lost?
B: Not to take anything away from Boris Karloff, or any other vision of this story, but I think this pair of performances is my favorite combined take on Frank and his Creature. Much as you found yourself looking for the reason behind Michael Myers’ actions in Halloween, I’ve always grasped for more from the Creature in the telling of this story. This vision of his existence is heartbreaking, and it gives me cause to cheer for him on a number of occasions. And the dichotomy between the supposed “monster” — who only longs for human acceptance, and the brilliant man who can’t understand his own fiancee or find it in him to love her is almost too wonderful for words.
You know, I am a sucker for a classic novel. I willingly trudged through Anna Karenina and probably would again, but I still don’t feel the pull of Paradise Lost, for no good reason, I’m assuming it will be as preachy and miserable as The Scarlet Letter. And if it is? Hard. Pass.
Do you have any closing thoughts for us, AM?
A: I did forget to mention if the actors could do the Swan Queen performance! I think they both could. I mentioned the physicality they both portray in the Creature, so I think it’s an easy guess that they could both excel at the duel roles when it comes to dance. I feel that perhaps we should incorporate a We Read Things Required Viewing at some point so that we can force each other to read (or re-read) the classics yet again. I’d start with The Stranger as I read that in English AND French in high school and it was just as miserable no matter the language. So we’d need to re-examine that, naturally.
I must give one last shout-out to the two lead actors. I can’t imagine the amount of work that must go into learning one role for an intense stage production, never mind two. It’s incredible and the fact that they pull it off every performance is, in a phrase, spell-binding.
Well friends and fans, have you enjoyed this taste of high class theatre? Grab those memories and hold on tight, because we’re leaving that ish in the dust. Next time out AM is going to have her first encounter with that singular jester of the early 90s, Pauly Shore. Ol’ Pauly is going to show us how to do Thanksgiving right when he visits middle America and all of its “down home cookin’ folks” in Son in Law.