Sometimes too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing.
That’s the reaction I had Saturday night at the staging of "Frankenstein" by Dale Gutzman’s Off The Wall Theatre. The play was written by Nick Dear and enjoyed tremendous critical acclaim in the United Kingdom. There are reasons aplenty for the applause.
It’s an interesting adaptation of the novel by Mary Shelley, with the focus much more on the monster and much less on Victor Frankenstein who created him. The pace of this production, however, was so frantic that it was hard to develop a relationship with any of the characters. Just too constantly intense.
This production opens with the monster, played to the hilt by Jeremy Welter, staggering to life as a human being. He can’t talk, can barely move and slides around, discovering his latent humanity.
He meets a blind man who has been exiled and learns to talk, walk, reason and act exactly like a human being, with some very rough edges. He has a violent streak, and revenge for real or imagined slights is never far below his surface.
Eventually we meet Victor, played by Nathan Danzer, and we are confronted by his obsession with what he has wrought. He leaves his betrothed at home while he takes off to continue with his experiments. He meets with his monster in his lab, and the monster threatens Victor unless he creates a woman for him.
I don’t want to give away each and every development of this play, but it is a series of short scenes that Gutzman described as being like the panels you might find in a comic book.
There is a certain eerie charm to this play, but it is so melodramatic that I hardly had time to take a breath as one dire moment followed another dire moment, accompanied by super dramatic lighting and music that made the hair on my neck stand on end.
There is abundant drama in this story. The issue of humanity versus science is an age-old story and fraught with tension. The idea of obsession taking over whatever judgement Victor ever had is something to which we can all relate.
The quest for love by the monster is humane, and there is a fascination in seeing this creation develop so many human traits – both good and bad.
But the drama never quits, and I was worn out at the end. There were moments in this play that could have been played with a light touch and even some humor. But every scene was like having a dentist drill a hole in a tooth. Part of the difficulty was the uneven performances by the cast.
Welter continues to be a force onstage and shows continued growth in each performance. His monster moves from barely a single cell animal to a fully developed human being. He gives us love, revenge, horror and hate all in moments of extreme fulfillment.
Danzer, who doesn't even appear until the middle of the first act, couldn’t keep up with the monster. He struggled with lines and has yet to grasp the concept of less being more at times. Variety is the spice of life, and there was almost none of it in his portrayal of the most central figure in Shelley’s story.
The rest of the cast ranged from capable to almost wooden, and it’s as if another couple of weeks of rehearsal under the creative eye of Gutzman might have worked wonders. I am continually enthralled with the energy Gutzman brings to each production and the zeal with which he reaches for the stars. He treats each production as a bridge he wants us to cross and find the pot of gold on the other side.
This was a reach too, but it seemed, at the end, just a bridge too far.
"Frankenstein" runs through Nov. 23, and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
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