In Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, scientist Victor Frankenstein's desire to bring life to the dead turns from wondrous dream into nightmarish reality. In R.N. Sandberg's stage adaptation, Victor's personal torment, not his creature, is the star, and the UNM Department of Theatre and Dance's production pours the contents of the doctor's psyche onto the stage.
Sandberg's theatrical version of Frankenstein (there are many) is told in a series of flashbacks. Victor (played by Theodore Jackson) is found adrift on an iceberg by Captain Robert Walton (Christopher Viens), who's on a voyage to find a lush paradise at the North Pole. Walton takes Victor aboard his ship, attempting to nurse him to health from an extreme sickness. In his sleep, Victor has intense flashbacks to his life before attending the university where he successfully reanimates a corpse. The Creature (Starnes Reveley) isn't the beautiful man Victor desired. Instead, The Creature's primitive drive for companionship and survival, paired with superhuman strength, sends him on a killing spree—leaving Victor alone to track down his creation and put him back in the grave from whence he came.
Director Kristen Loree states in the program notes that this production of Frankenstein is a fever dream, as if "Salvador Dalí and Mary Shelley have collided." This surreal frame of reference is established immediately as a drove of undead creatures crawl onto the stage for the opening scene, indicating this will be no direct, streamlined, period retelling of Frankenstein.
The movement between real and remembered time are easy to distinguish, due in equal part to Jackson's ability to effortlessly morph from disabled-by-guilt to driven-with-genius and the lighting cues by designer Brian McNamara. In the flashbacks, Victor is composed (or as much as you’d expect from young Frankenstein) while those around him take on strange, melodramatic movements or appear in the background of scenes where they logically should not be. But this is the dreamworld, so logic doesn't apply.
“This is the dreamworld, so logic doesn't apply.”
The cast is solid but the hallucinatory quality is uneven or lacking in many places. Victor's cousin/adopted sister/love interest (this is the early 1800s, remember) Elizabeth (Amanda Machon) is dressed in a flowing gown and has the air of an angelic ballerina. She dances and gesticulates as if floating through a fantasy, but no other character adopts as much grandeur as she. There are slight exceptions in scenes where zombie-women swoop nonsensically across the stage, as well as in the Professor (played by Andrew Pollock), who carries a tic of fiddling with his glasses. The lack of consistency makes Elizabeth stand out more than she probably should. When going for surreal, be surreal. And it doesn’t help that the background music and sound effects at times drown out the actors, even from the front row.
The strongest element of this, the first production of UNM's season, is the set. Designed by senior David Horowitz, Rodey is transformed into an Arctic wonderland, with towering icebergs and a moveable, icy slab used creatively by the cast. In the middle of the stage is a gaping crack that’s dark to the audience until it’s overflowing with smoke and zombies and disembodied hands. All these physical elements mixed with the costuming (designed by Dorothy Baca) and the cast’s willingness to dive into Frankenstein’s world make for some strong imagery—the kind of fitful nights and classic sci-fi novels.