Arts & Culture

Frankenstein: when hurt leads to anger

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:03 PDT, Mon October 28, 2019

Last Updated: 2:27 PST, Tue November 12, 2019

How much pain and anger justifies brutality? 

Pacific Theatre’s Frankenstein: Lost in Darkness asks exactly that question. 

We watch a radio play unfold before us in the misty darkness. We see the creation of the sounds, see the actors change roles and voices, as they embody each character and we feel, most of all feel, the desires and anguish of each person in Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein. 

Harkening back to the days when CBC produced radio plays in front of live audiences, we hear the monster’s words as he trudges through the winter snows and we see the foley artist crunching the bag of corn starch to replicate the foot steps’ sound in the snow with crystalline accuracy.  

I was tired when I got there on Saturday night, almost falling asleep on the ride in. This play riveted me. In a warm and cozy theatre, drowsiness fled in the near-darkness as the play engrossed my mind and emotions. 

This is an accessible play. While the production offers the sighted a rich experience, it also totally immerses those with little or no vision in the tale. As well, hearing assist devices can be picked up at the ticket wicket.  

The actors’ voices, in their strength and subtly, weave a tale that envelopes us, letting our imaginations run wild, filling in all the visuals.  

Of particular note is Tariq Leslie. When we hear his inner thoughts as the monster articulated clearly, richly through his resonant tones, we hear a true master of voice acting. When we later hear him in the monsters’ voice, that the humans around him experience, the poignancy of his struggle to be heard, to be understood and to be loved pierces out hearts. 

It is all keenly enhanced by evocative music and sound effects designed and composed by Rick Colhoun.

Matthew Simmons’ acting as a variety of characters, including a small jovial crowd at a wedding or a Scots magistrate in court, is subtle and convincing. His unobtrusive work as the main on-stage sound-effects, also called foley, person is spot-on. 

How stage manager Shila Amin masterfully manages to have everything and everyone where they need to be in the near or total darkness throughout the entire production is part of the mystery. 

Corina Anderson as Victor Frankenstein, the scientist who creates the monster offers great range. Close your eyes and you no longer see the woman at the microphone, you hear the man you know as the driven, and later anguished, creator of the monster. This is not a horror play instead, deep moral struggles abound, most of all for Dr. Frankenstein. Does he create a life partner for his monster to love, in order to stop the killing or will that just add one more killer to the world? 

Diana Squires deftly plays many roles, and as a part of the ensemble also adds sound effects that paint a rich background to the scenes.  

Jonathan Kim’s lighting design seems non-existent when in reality it deftly directs our eyes and our hearts throughout the production.

The play says that those treated monstrously become monsters but also asks, what justifies monstrous acts? Are they ever justified? Where to draw the line? 

The issue at the heart of Mary Shelley’s 1816 story rings as true in 2019 as it did 200 years ago. 

Lest we think otherwise, we only need to look at the ongoing murder trial of a man accused of driving his van into women on a Toronto sidewalk, a man allegedly belonging to an online group of sexually-inactive straight men who plot revenge on women because of the hurt of seemingly spurned advances. 

As marketing director Julia Lank says, “Frankenstein looks at the decisions we make in pride and panic.” 

This is a plot-rich play. Much like the novels of the 1800s, more happens in the first page than in the entirety of some of today’s morose tone poems. 

With Mary Shelley’s writing, and playwright Peter Church’s adaptation, this production has no loose ends. Subtly woven into the plot throughout, with great craft, everything happens for a reason. 

With foreshadowing but no plot spoilers, things do make sense after they happen, while nothing is predictable.  

In this interpretation, producer and director Chris Lam, best remembered as Owen Meanie in last season’s Pacific Theatre production, makes the elegance of Mary Shelley’s language resonate like a cello, as the play surges on. 

Kudos to Paige Louter and artistic director Ron Reed for planting the seed that became this production. It is dark, moral tale richly-painted. 

Looking for a Halloween-inspired bit of theatre? Or, looking for something deeply thought-provoking? Either way, your time is well spent by going to Pacific Theatre’s production of Frankenstein: Lost in Darkness, on through Nov. 2.

I hope CBC will be inspired to tape and broadcast this production, somehow, some time because it deserves to be heard throughout our land. It is good entertainment. It could become a Halloween classic. And it speaks to us in the 21st century because these moral dilemmas permeate our world today. 

For information or tickets go to: pacifictheatre.org or call 604-731-5518. There are still some tickets available. 

There is accessible seating. The venue at 1440 W12th Ave., (at Hemlock) in Vancouver is close to transit and free street parking within the neighbouring blocks on Hemlock is usually available for evening performances.

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