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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles


Also see Sharon's review of Take Me Out

Clark Freeman, Susan Matus and Michael Laurino
Neal Bell's play Monster, a take on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, attempts to disabuse everyone of the notion that Frankenstein's Creature is some big, hulking monster who has bolts in his neck and kills people without purpose. It instead hopes to put the focus back on the creature's desire to belong and feelings of abandonment by his "father."

The problem is it's been done. From Kenneth Branagh's 1994 film to Shuler Hensley's performance in Van Helsing, the "in" thing is to play up the sympathetic side of Frankenstein's Creature. Bell's script isn't revolutionary; it's just one more entry in the parade of Frankenstein's Creatures who only want acceptance.

And it isn't a particularly good one. Bell departs from Shelley's novel in several places - many of which make for interesting scenes but fail to sum up to a cohesive whole. Young Victor Frankenstein can talk to animals, and he has a philosophical discussion with the family cat before killing it to further his research. It is a curious scene and a somewhat disturbing one, but the idea that Victor possesses this Dr. Doolittle-like talent should have some sort of meaning when Victor considers his position in the universe, and it does not. When Victor gives life to his Creature, the Creature is born with the memories of the brain it held, including the ability to talk. That the Creature is not an unknowing innocent should change everything, but it does not. Victor wants to know about the mysteries of death, and he has before him a walking, talking being that is fully capable of answering all of his questions; his abandonment of the Creature, now that the Creature can communicate, is wholly inexplicable. Other unusual script quirks, like the fact that holding the "lightning jar" apparently causes one to speak hidden truths, are similarly unexplained. There's a lot going on here, but none of it amounts to much. In fact, what it amounts to is an ending completely different from the one Shelley envisioned and, in some ways, a betrayal of everything that Victor and the Creature have been established to be.

Sight Unseen Theatre Group's production has a few good performances. Clark Freeman, as the Creature, convincingly delivers the agonized screams of his birth and the horrible confusion of his first hours of life. Frank Ashmore is terrific as Victor's father - giving us, in very few lines, a complete picture of a loving father who wants to spur on the spirit of inquiry in his children. And Susan Matus turns in a spirited earthy serving girl. But the rest are uneven. Megan West is too chipper to be believed as Victor's love, Elizabeth, and Michael Laurino can't really get a solid handle on what motivates the good doctor himself. Frank Smith plays Victor's little brother, William, with a childish enthusiasm - but Smith is an adult, and Andy Mitton's direction is not clear enough to convey William's age instantly.

Credit should be given to Joy Venides for designing make-up for the Creature that emphasizes the recycled nature of his skin. Some of the show's special effects, such as the sound of running water being created by the manipulation of actual water, are notable for their simplicity and effectiveness. However, the show itself is not particularly special.

Monster runs at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica through October 31, 2004. For reservations, call (877) 986-7336.

The Sight Unseen Theatre Group presents Monster. Written by Neal Bell. From the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Producer Clark Freeman; Director Andy Mitton; Stage Manager Casey Clark; Light Designer Dan Jenkins; Sound Designer Aashish Pathack; Composer Andy Mitton; Set Designer T.J. Moore; Technical Director Jim Conrads; Master Electrician Seth Chandler; Make-up Design Joy Venides; Costume Designer Valerie Bart; Poster/Ad Designer Justin Bradshaw; Sight Unseen Publicity Mariah Sussman; Publicist Kim Garfield.

Victor - Michael Laurino
Walton/Clerval - Ben Correale
Father/Forster - Frank Ashmore
Elizabeth - Megan West
William/Cat/Dog - Frank Smith
Justine/Mother - Susan Matus
Creature/Dog - Clark Freeman

Photo: Ed Krieger

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Sharon Perlmutter

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