Monday, September 19, 2011

it's alive! it's alive!!! neptune's 49th season begins with a dead man

it's alive! it's alive!!!

well, sort of. neptune theatre's new season kicked off friday with Frankenstein. i was there for halifax magazine. the play had potential, and a superb monster, but nothing to match this classic scene

by pleasant coincidence, i spent sunday at the birthday of my 93-year-old grandmother-in-law, who remembers seeing the 1931 movie when it first came out.

Frankenstein struggles to come alive
There was an excited buzz ahead of Friday’s opening night performance of Frankenstein at Neptune Theatre. The poster features a beefcake monster all dark and broody –with tattoos! – and everyone knows the story. The delight would be in the telling.

Neptune’s play is based on Mary Shelley’s novel, but drops much of the plot. The result can be confusing, such as when the creature tells Dr. 
Frankenstein that a blind man taught him to read.

Victor Frankenstein (Seann Gallagher) comes across as a cold, listless member of the ruling class, indifferent to the lives of others. For reasons never made clear in the play, he has started secretly breaking into graves and taking body parts from morgues in an effort to create a living creature. Vanity – the effort to oust God as sole creator of life – seems to be his only motive. In between stitching corpse parts together, he tries to convince himself to marry his long-time girlfriend Elizabeth (Alexis Milligan), who was raised as his sister.

You would think this plot line worthy of Dexter would rivet the audience, but by the end of the first half people shifted restlessly every time unconflicted Frankenstein and his friend Henry (Kevin Dennis) had the stage to themselves. Each line is delivered in the same strained voice, so it’s hard to tell what is motivating this strange man.

Things liven up when the monster staggers onto the stage. Stephen Gartner’s jittery, stuttering, stitched-together sexpot of a beast is captivating. Though not as hideous as described in the novel, nor as hot as the model on the poster, he breathes life into the animated corpse. The creature charms and menaces in equal measure as he slowly wrestles control away from his creator and becomes his master in an effort to force Frankenstein to create him a bride.

Frankenstein agrees and soon has enough female body parts in his lab to lower the giant phallic contraption he’s built to bring life to the lifeless. We wait with baited breath to see if he’ll go through with it.

This is a play that believes in telling, not showing. Almost all of the high drama scenes – the trips to the graveyard, the birth of the monster, the murder of Frankenstein’s brother – are described, but not shown. 
We have instead many long scenes of two men talking. “Too much talking,” as one audience member grumbled.

There are sparks of life in the play, though. Frau Frankenstein (Elizabeth Richardson) makes the best of her few lines and Detective Ernest (Charlies Rhindress) seems to have been the only one to get the memo that the play was set in the Dirty Thirties and brings zest to the cop on the case. But though man at the centre of it all – Gallagher’s Frankenstein – twitches and shakes, he never really comes to life.

The problem with Frankenstein is that the wrong guy is dead. Perhaps he should have tried the lightning on himself.
Jon Tattrie is an author and journalist in Halifax.
Frankenstein is at Neptune Theatre until Oct. 9. Go to or call 429-7070 for tickets.

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