The Independent EyeFrankenstein (2011)
Frankenstein (2011)

Adaptation of the Mary Shelley epic about our culture’s denial of death, revised from the 1998 production using puppets and mixed media. Now available on DVD.

Directed & designed by Conrad Bishop, music by Elizabeth Fuller
Puppets, set and lighting by Conrad Bishop
Toy theatre figures by Hob
Costumes by Julia Kwitchoff

Cast: Conrad Bishop, Elizabeth Fuller, Eli Bishop
Two acts; 2m/1w, multi-character; unit set.

Written by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller, based on the novel by Mary Shelley, and on the Eye’s 1998 production which was developed in workshops with Touchstone Theatre and the Genesis Ensemble. Development of this version was funded in part by a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation. Co-produced by 6th Street Playhouse and The Independent Eye, premiering October 7, 2011, at 6th Street Playhouse (Santa Rosa, CA). 13 performances.

From the program:

Frankenstein is all things to all people, but it’s come down to us through its many adaptations as a cautionary tale about mad scientists playing God. That story was never remotely interesting to me. Yes, as a kid I loved Boris Karloff’s pathetic creature, and I saw, in the words of this play, “every two-bit monster movie ever made.” But after dreaming about H-bombs exploding over Omaha as my mom drove home from work, I didn’t need science fiction to tell me about the dangers of our friend, Progress.

Finally I came to my own vision of the story through the life of Mary Shelley, who penned it as the 18-year-old daughter of a disreputable anarchist philosopher and a pioneering feminist writer who died giving birth to her. For Shelley, monsters were made, not born, and death was real: she mourned her lost mother deeply, bore two children who died before the publication of Frankenstein, and was to lose another, and her husband, a few years later.

No accident, then, that Victor Frankenstein is plunged into a lifelong obsession with defeating death when as a child he loses his mother. For him, the implication is that death is intertwined with the female, that the answer is to conquer death by making birth obsolete: a child fully formed of his male will. Not unlike our urge to shape our wondrous Mother Earth into something that conforms to our long-range forecasts and business plans. Victor’s failing is not in his urge to master the secrets of life, but in his failure to take responsibility, fleeing from what he’s engendered. Why? Why does he do this? Why did my own father desert? Why do those in power devise elaborate rationalizations for the pain and death wrought by what they spawn?

We first created this Frankenstein in 1998 with a glorious trio of clowns in Bethlehem, PA. Reconceiving it now, it still contains a lot of the absurdity, incongruity, anachronism that was there at its birth, and we even pay a bit of homage to the progress of this modern myth. Coming to it as an actual family—father, mother, and son—has given it added resonance, at least for ourselves. We are deeply grateful to 6th Street Playhouse for making it possible to share it with you.

Bishop’s puppets and Mary Shelley’s story turn out to be a well-suited match, making for a strangely beautiful, visually arresting spectacle of inanimate oddness. … The script—lyrical and full of humor, but occasionally somewhat baffling—focuses on “the creature” as an abandoned boy-child, less a monosyllabic monster than a heartsick wild man. Gone are the horror-science-fiction clichés (no electricity, no grave-robbing), replaced by a more intimate story of a damaged, increasingly angry soul in search of love, who, denied the family he desires, ends up settling for revenge.

—David Templeton, North Bay Bohemian

DVD available

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