Barbara Field’s Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein) belongs to the literary category that I refer to as the “But What Happened Next?” genre. Many such works can be tedious and unsatisfying, but this one is very interesting. Indeed, it was quite fun to watch the Sept. 22nd opening-night performance of Theatre in the Park’s production, directed by Ira David Wood III.
Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus ends with Dr. Victor Frankenstein, bent on revenge, pursuing The Creature that he has created up to the frozen wasteland of the northernmost tip of the world. Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein) begins at the point at which he has finally caught up with him. (The exact time that this takes place is uncertain, but there is dialogue that suggests that it has been more than a few years after the events in the novel.)
What ensues is a conversation that prompts a series of flashbacks as the two engage in soul-searching — each searching the soul of his adversary as well as his own. Does the play answer some questions? Yes. More importantly, however, the musings of this pair — the creator and his creation — raise many more questions, profound questions about our own dreams and ambitions, existential questions about ourselves and our humanity. And the philosophical/religious overtones open yet another can of worms that can be delved into as deeply as we might wish.
Production designer Thomas Mauney supplies a desolate arctic scene that is so realistic that it almost exudes cold. It is backed by a scrim on which a suggestion of the northern lights is at times projected. Behind this scrim is another acting area for the dream-sequences and the flashbacks.
The lighting for both areas is expertly handled. For example, individual pools of light establish the isolation of the characters, and these pools are deftly merged as the characters move in to share each other’s reality and space. Sound effects, lighting effects, and other special effects are phenomenal for event after event including, for example, the moment of “the quickening” in the flashback to Dr, Frankenstein’s lab.
Casting is superb! D. Anthony Pender’s Frankenstein is consumed with a self-loathing, and he is committed both to revenge on The Creature and to fulfilling what he feels is a divinely ordained task of ridding the world of this menace. Frankenstein’s body might be exhausted and nearly paralyzed with pain, but Pender makes us believe that he could easily forge forward on will alone.
Mark A. Zumbach captures the gentle and urbane essence that The Creature possesses beneath the hideous visual exterior as well as beneath the rougher persona that years of inhumane treatment at the hands of humans has caused him to develop.
Ira David Wood IV, as Victor (the young Dr. Frankenstein), shows the longings and obsessions as well as the grief and the regrets that consumed this man in his younger days.
There is very interesting interaction between Anthony Pender’s Frankenstein and Ira Wood’s Victor. Pender’s character begins a narrative of an event which then merges into a vignette acted out by Wood’s character behind the scrim. Pender, however, continues to be involved in the event through gestures, body language, and facial expressions. Sometimes, in mid-sentence, one stops speaking and the other seamlessly finishes the sentence. (In fact, the transition was so seamless that I found myself wondering whether or not I had imagined it the first few times.)
Also appearing in the flashbacks, John Honeycutt makes a good Professor Krempe, and Olivia Fitts fits in well as Elizabeth. Honeycutt’s Krempe appropriately alternates between supporting Victor and snidely criticizing him. Fitts exhibits Elizabeth’s love for Victor as well as her vulnerability. And Ford Nelson plays “Adam,” The Creature in his earliest days.
Poignant lines in the play include the question that Frankenstein repeatedly poses to The Creature: “Do you dream?” At one point, he questions whether or not The Creature ever dreams of anything prior to his “birth.” Watch, also for the line: “Make me happy, and I will again be virtuous” as The Creature bargains with the creator. And there is a memorable line: “I did it with mirrors.”
This “But What Happened Next?” play is definitely worth seeing. Warning: do not expect anything like Hollywood’s versions of Frankenstein’s Monster. This creature is true to Mary Shelley’s original creation. Expect, rather, both a creature and a creator haunted by their past(s) and urgently seeking respite from the torture of their soul(s). While the opening music is somewhat ominous, and some of the effects are a little shocking, there is nothing “scary” about this play. It is, nonetheless, a good choice for a pre-Halloween show.
Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein) plays through Oct. 8th at Theatre in the Park, with Friday and Saturday performances starting at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday performances starting at 3 p.m.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 23rd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Jeffrey Rossman: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8635.
Theatre in the Park presents PLAYING WITH FIRE (AFTER FRANKENSTEIN) at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28-30, 3 p.m. Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 and 7, and 3 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $24 ($18 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $16 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-831-6058 or https://theatreinthepark.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S41000000S4rfEAC.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6058 or http://theatreinthepark.com/whatson/group-sales.
SHOW: http://theatreinthepark.com/calendar/event/84/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1550343168359096/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh/videos/10155356992559550/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/, https://www.facebook.com/theatreintheparkraleigh, https://twitter.com/TheatreInPark, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_in_the_Park.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair/walker accessible, and large-print playbills are usually available.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7th, performance.
Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein) (1989 Minneapolis, MN play): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1014 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.). The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Barbara Field (St. Louis Park, MN-based playwright and screenwriter): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsF/field-barbara.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database), https://pwcenter.org/profile/barbara-field (Playwrights’ Center bio), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Field (Wikipedia).
Ira David Wood III (Raleigh, NC director/performer/playwright and TIP’s founder and artistic and executive director): http://theatreinthepark.com/about/whos-who; (TIP bio), https://www.facebook.com/iradavidwood; (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/idwiii; (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_David_Wood_III (Wikipedia).
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.