Thursday, April 4, 1996
Section: Tempo
Column: Arts Watch, Theater Review
By Lawrence Bommer, Special to the Tribune

“Life is obstinate and clings closest where it is most hated.” That line from “Frankenstein” hints at the power of Mary Shelley’s 1818 parable, the Gothic tale of a freakish “aberration” who was “created” but never begot–and who stalks his more monstrous maker with implacable vengeance.

It’s literally a larger-than-life story, which makes it epic grist for Redmoon Theatre’s magic mill and for Michael Zerang’s impressive expressionistic score. Following the success of last winter’s “Moby Dick,” director/designers Jim Lasko and Blair Thomas have spent a year fabricating and coordinating puppets and Grand Guignol masks to drive home this authentic, 90-minute “Frankenstein.”

The transformations kick in from the start, as masked manipulators force the anguished monster-puppet to tear himself apart. Painted subtitles explain the action as Frankenstein (Lasko), abandons his fiance Elisabeth (Tria Smith) to steal from the grave.

Among myriad wizard effects, the monster’s 4-foot head glides over the canopied bed where he will later attack Elisabeth. The doctor’s dream is symbolized by a macabre miniature carousel that rises from one of the seven trap doors, his body-snatching by a tiny rod-puppet that pilfers a corpse from the gallows.

The monster’s discovery of the pleasures of music and sex is sardonically acted out by soaring shadow puppets, while his pursuit of Frankenstein through the Arctic (as he demands his mate) is cunningly enacted by looming icebergs that open up to expose the creature’s curses.

The abrupt showdown–on the mad scientist’s wedding day–contrasts the gibbering guests, who merrily play at dying, with the monster’s limb-tearing, real-death revenge.

The text (by Lasko and Bryn Magnus) tries to tell Shelley’s saga from the monster’s vantage point. At best it captions or comments on the scenes that sear the stage, while the occasional voiceovers are dramatically weaker than the images they narrate.

This graphic and ghoulish “Frankenstein” never domesticates its overworked horror yarn. Thanks to these 10 dogged “alchemists,” Redmoon restores the primal scream to a timeless tragedy.

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