By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Brett Goodnack) makes a grand, scientific achievement that forever haunts him in Midnight Radio’s “Frankenstein.” Mary Shelley’s classic novel comes alive in an adaptation by Bricolage co-founder, Tami Dixon – complete with a Midnight Radio twist.
Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo.
Caveat: Midnight Radio is not on the radio, nor does it take place at midnight. It’s a hip, little moniker for a staged reading with actors providing quirky sound effects, like crinkling bubble wrap to simulate a roaring fire. Think of it as a modern version of those old-timey radio plays. They’re usually irreverent and hilarious. “Frankenstein” is a much more faithful adaptation, and not jam-packed with the typical humor associated in the Midnight Radio series. It is, however, dark, moody and haunting with a few laughs – mostly at the front of the show.
Dixon dumps all the familiar trappings from Peggy Webling’s stage version, which later became the James Whale film, “Frankenstein.” The show opens with the cast mocking the film’s most iconic moment – when Dr. Frankenstein glorious proclaims, “It’s alive!”
The story circles back to the novel, “Frankenstein or Modern Prometheus.” Victor is quietly creating new life sans Igor (or Fritz as he was known in Whale’s movie). He is disgusted by his creature (Cotter Smith) and abandons him/it.
The creature learns how to read and write by watching an old blind man (Parag S. Gohel) and his children (Maura Underwood and Goodnack). Hoping to befriend them, the creature moves in on the family. The blind man accepts him, because he’s unable to see the creature’s hideous appearance. When the kids come home, all hell breaks loose. The creature grapples with them, and, out of spite, burns down their cottage.
Then, the monster meets young William (Goodnack, again), and strangles him when he learns his surname is also Frankenstein (William was Vic’s youngest brother).
Meanwhile, Victor wrestles with his conscience – who happens to sound a lot like Mary Shelley (Jamie Agnello).
When Victor learns of William’s death, he travels back to Geneva to be with his family and fiancé, Elizabeth Lavenza (Underwood). But danger lurks. Victor’s creation is stalking him.
Bodies begin to pile up, and Victor goes mad from the mounting pressure. It’s a psychological thriller with ghoulish details.
We also get a treatise on the life of Mary Shelley. Hint: it’s not much happier than that of her protagonist. The credit originally went to her husband, but she fought to get her name on the book. It is a seminal work in horror. It’s also one of the first science fiction stories since the creature is brought to life by Galvanism, Luigi Galvani’s method of sparking dissected frog legs with electricity to get them to kick.
Director (and the other Bricolage co-founder) brought some remarkable actors back to the Midnight Radio stage.
Goodnack, who normally gets broad laughs in many comedic roles, is deadly serious as Dr. Frankenstein. He is a talented and very versatile actor.
Smith looks affable and neighborly, but close your eyes and you will be terrified of his rendition of Frankenstein’s creature. Truer to Shelley’s words, the monster is intelligent, lonely and homicidally cruel, referring murder as mischief as if it were a parlor game.
Underwood is assigned several female roles, including Justine, who is wrongly accused of William’s murder, and Elizabeth, Victor’s love interest. She excels in every role. Underwood gives each character a distinct personality and voice, even when it’s a townsperson with one line.
Gohel provides most of the humor. Though it’s in small supply, there are a few really good laughs.
Agnello gets a solid moment toward the end to really shine and she does with aplomb.
The sound was a combination of haunting sound effects by Brendan Kepple and the cast acting as Foley artists. Cello Fury, a cello band that plays progressive rock, comprised of David Throckmorton, Nicole Myers, Simon Cummings and Ben Munoz, provided additional music. The band also performs a brief interlude between the two acts.
Midnight Radio has a sleek new look, thanks to set designer Hank Bullington.
Note: If you are expecting a light, pithy play to cheer you up from all real horrors of the world around you – this is not the show for you. It is downright macabre.
Spoiler: The Grim Reaper gets the Frankenstein family on a frequent flyer plan.
Midnight Radio’s “Frankenstein” is a flawless. For those of you who love horror, it will bring joy to your dark, little hearts.
Bricolage, 937 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.