1999 years ago, an unmarried teenage mother had a bad dream. The next morning, she decided to turn that dream into a short story. Over the next few months, that story evolved into a novel—and that novel changed the future of literature. The teenager was Mary Shelley, and her book was Frankenstein. As everyone knows, it’s the tale of a creature assembled from dead body parts and granted the spark of life. In playwright Trevor Allen’s stage adaptation The Creature, Shelley’s original story is taken apart at the seams and reassembled into something entirely new. The Creature, now running at Cinnabar Theater, is daring, inventive, and artful—but problematic.
Director Jon Tracy mixes up a meta-theatrical cocktail of misty atmosphere and sheer chance-taking guts, staging Allen’s minimalist take on the novel using only a trio of chairs, a snowy slab of white for a set, a leather journal—and three actors.
Eschewing special effects, action scenes and monster makeup, the three barefooted narrators are: Victor Frankenstein (played by popular local actor Tim Kniffin) Captain Walton (played by Richard Pallaziol), and the Creature himself (Robert Parsons). Each character takes turns telling their side of the story in a long string of beautiful words.
Unlike the novel—a tale within a tale within a tale—Allen places the narratives side by side, simultaneously, with the narrative bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball every sentence or two. Confusion and exhaustion are just some of the by-products of this fiendish experiment. By breaking each man’s tale into such tiny fragments, the power of Shelley’s original story is almost entirely diminished, literally smashed to pieces.
As Walton, the ships captain who discovers Victor Frankenstein near the North Pole and takes his deathbed confession, Pallaziol is quite good, and Kniffin, as the dying mad scientist, nicely captures the last-gasp desperation of the character. But in delivering his entire story in a steady, near-lifeless monotone, the emotional arc of Frankenstein’s horrific personal journey becomes one-note, sadly hammered flat and cold.
As the Creature, Parsons is served the best, and he brings an impressive sense of wounded dignity to the role of an abandoned child, but in the script, Allen goes too far in trying to make the character sympathetic, even altering the details of the Creature’s various murders. In a deliberate deviation from Shelley’s text, Allen turns each murder—including the calculated framing of an innocent woman—into simple, unintentional accidents.
While such story and plot changes may go unnoticed by those unfamiliar with the novel, they do matter, throwing off the balance of the drama, robbing the story of much of its complexity.
On the plus side, Tracy’s set is beautifully done—a sloping swath of snow that runs across the stage and curves up the wall and out of sight. And the lovely light design (also Tracy) and sound design (Jared Emerson Johnson) all set the mood beautifully.
Still, though fascinating and visually haunting, this Creature—despite the best intentions of its talented creator—turns out to be less than the sum of its parts.
‘The Creature’ runs through Nov. 1 at Cinnabar Theater www.cinnabartheater.org