Cockroach Theatre brings ‘Frankenstein’ to life for the Halloween season

Frankenstein, playing now at Cockroach Theatre.
Photo: Richard Brusky
Rosalie Miletich

Four stars

Frankenstein Through October 29; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $15-25. Art Square Theatre, 725-222-9661.

The story of Frankenstein is familiar: A demented doctor stitches together a creature from spare parts and brings it to life. But Nick Dear’s 2011 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel strips the work to its most essential elements, and Mindy Woodhead’s direction and her Cockroach Theatre cast guide us through the tale with feeling.

Christopher Brown gives a mesmerizing performance as the unnamed monster, writhing with tortured physicality. His artificial birth starts the show, and his childlike struggles to fit in with society are riveting and heartbreaking—until he takes his bloody revenge. He’s sympathetic even then, depending on one’s views.

The mad doctor is Ernie Curcio, glassy-eyed with power and icy smiles. “I breathe the breath of God!” he bellows, and we wonder if this could possibly end well. Hint: It doesn’t.

Prodding readers since 1818, the themes of the work endure today; questions of morality, parenthood, science, the soul, birth, love, and religion jump from the actors’ mouths. The play is nearly in the round—actors juxtaposed, lobbing lines across the stage. That means we lose some sight lines and softly-spoken words, but it’s worth it for the naturalistic feel of the show.

Heidi Rider balances out the cast as a firm voice of reason and feminine power, set against a husband who sees her, at best, as an annoyance. She shows the monster kindness, but that doesn’t go so well. Oliver Jones and Natascha Negro both stand out as mechanicals, rotating through varied parts while bringing snippets of humor to a grim landscape.

Green lighting, fog, barren branches and white shrouds make for a striking set design. A white wall fitted with climbing anchors serves as a versatile set piece for both the actors and a projection surface for forest scenes, Antarctic wasteland and hallucinatory dreamscapes.

Our heartstrings ache for the pitiful creature and his tortured maker, locked in a battle for dominance and connection. I could watch Brown’s monster and Curcio’s doctor for days and still be glued to the chair. Ripe with monstrousness and fitted with touching humanity, it’s a fine production for the Halloween season.

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