Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Who is the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN at Theater Works?

Adam Cantrell and Wes John
photo by John Groseclose
by Jennifer Haaland

At first glance, the answer seems obvious.  Adam Cantrell, who plays the creature in Theater Works' stunning production of the play based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is, of course, the scarred and stitched together monster. The more Cantrell visited with PHX Stages about the show, however, the more cause there was to wonder.

"This production is not completely about the creature being a monster but more specifically, he's an unwanted child. Abandoned essentially at birth, he's despised by everyone," Cantrell began.  "His life is loss and loss and loss and rejection. It's eventually about the anger that stems from that."

How the tragic character Cantrell describes comes to life on Peoria's stage is nothing short of astounding.  In an imposing Gothic laboratory of galvanized steel, copper and incandescent light, it includes the creature's wooden gurney that's appointed with electrical ray guns of olde.

"The assembly of the first lab scene has a huge electrical storm crashing in the background," Cantrell said about all of the archaic gadgets that sputter and whirr. "Huge amounts of light and sound technology are at work. The designers put in an unreal amount of technical time and spent dozens of hours just working out cues."

Like the monster he plays, Cantrell is fresh and new to the Theater Works stage on which he finds himself. After a twenty-six year theatre hiatus, he was "astonished when, out of nowhere and with no recent experience" director Chris Hamby still offered him the role.

"I do identify with the script on a lot of levels. I guess you could say I've had lots of dealings with isolation and loneliness, though not to the creature's extent," said Cantrell. "So, there is a little bit of me in there, but mostly I keep it there with the creature. I don't know if that makes any sense, but he has become his own being."

As he discussed his character's relationship with creator Victor Frankenstein (Wes John), Cantrell noted how two scenes in particular were juxtaposed.  He seemed focused on the monstrous behavior surrounding his character and on lives filled with rejection and pain. 

So, from a contemplative seat in the audience, the question was being re-framed.  We need to ask again.  Who is the monster?  Like many moments in the show, Cantrell's last words about the production's effect  seem layered with meaning.

"When I first come to life, I hear Victor push off as nonsense any humanity I might have," Cantrell said, describing his creator's dismissive judgment. "It mirrors the last scene in some ways as we are bringing the whole play to a close? And it gives me chills just thinking about it."

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