Quote of the Day: Curiosity is the prerequisite to science. line from Professor Krempe in Barbara Field’s play Frankenstein – Playing with Fire, adapted from the novel by Mary Shelley.
You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement and at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity. Our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful. Marie Curie
Thus will the fondest dream of Phallic science be realized: a pristine new planet populated by little boy clones of great entrepreneurs free to smash atoms, accelerate particles, or, if they are so moved, build pyramids – without any social relevance or human responsibility at all. Barbara Ehrenreich
I found many great quotes on science and social responsibility. That, for me, was the biggest question raised while watching Frankenstein – Playing with Fire at the Guthrie Theater last Sunday. My friend and I discussed the play for most of our two-hour ride home after the show, and there is already a discussion thread amongst the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers on the play, its content, and delivery. Theater gives us a common experience that asks questions, invites discussion, and widens your perspective. A good theatrical production gets inside your head and evokes strong emotion. At its best, it raises social questions and calls you to action.
The language and dialogue of “Playing with Fire” is dense. It’s told like a memory. The play opens with its final scene, Victor Frankenstein is pointing a gun at his creation, The Creature. Victor asks The Creature, “Do you dream?” The Creature asks back, “Why do you hate me?” They play a game of questions, and non answers, all the while circling each other and the real issue. Why would you create something only to turn your back on it, abandon it, and hope it goes away, and then finally seek to destroy it? Some deep, moral questions are raised in Mary Shelley’s horror story and Barbara Field’s stage adaptation of it. The story is told through a series of flashbacks and memory of why and how Victor created life from death and what happened to his creation once he was “born” then set free.
The acting in this play is superb. Elijah Alexander who plays the older Creature and Zachary Fine who plays the aged Frankenstein are on the stage the entire time, constantly watching and interacting in the scenes both in their present and in the past. It was a cool way to watch the plot unfold. The younger scientist Victor, played by Ryan Colbert, seems crazier than his older counterpart. Jason Rojas as the freshly made monster, named Adam, is more like a wild animal at first. The one flaw in the script is when Victor Frankenstein calls his Creature hideous (um, no, and where’s the part where you rip your shirt off?).
The only female in the cast is Amelia Pedlow who plays Elizabeth, Victor’s cousin who becomes his wife. She is sweet and beautiful and devoted, and the first to feel the sting of Victor’s abandonment and lack of emotional connection. It would have been nice if she’d had a little more depth and time on stage.
Robert Dorfman plays Professor Krempe/Old Man and is almost a caricature. As Chris Hewitt points out in his review in the Star Tribune, Krempe looks a bit like Edna’s cousin (from The Incredibles). I thought the same thing. The young scientist Victor is studying with Krempe in Ingolstadt, Germany over 200 years ago. I studied in Ingolstadt a number of years ago, myself (not quite 200). I didn’t know that was the birthplace of Frankenstein’s monster, but now I can see the Gothic images in my mind, the cobble streets, the river running through the city, and the grey spires of the old churches. It is a nice setting for horror!
I recommend you attend Frankenstein – Playing with Fire with people who like to discuss such matters as life, death, science and social responsibility, medical experiments, and the role women have in the horror genre. Like, why are women so often the ones who get hacked up? And, where are all the women authors of this genre? Did you know that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered the birth of the horror genre? Yes, a woman writer, AND her book was originally published anonymously.
Frankenstein – Playing with Fire is directed by Rob Melrose, really fascinating movement on this black ice stage, designed by Michael Locher. Raquel Baretto is the Costume Designer, nice use of the blue coats. Cat Tate Starmer designed the lighting, and Cliff Caruthers is the Sound Designer/Composer. The creepy atmosphere would not exist without them. Well done (even though it gave me a few heart-palpitations). You can see Frankenstein – Playing with Fire at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through October 27, 2018. Go ahead, get your monster on, it is soon Halloween after all!
Go. Create (but with responsibility). Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: What moral responsibilities do scientists have? Have you read the Gothic novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley or seen any adaptations (of course you have)? What are your thoughts?
I’m someone who likes to dig deeper and study a subject once it’s piqued my interest. This is a script that I want to study, so I ordered it, and I plan to read the novel (finally), and it’s time to watch the 1930’s film starring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff! (Not until my boys are home, because YIKES! Those heart-palpitations are real.)
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Excellent review, Mary. I saw Barbara Field’s adaptation when it first came out (was it the 90s? gasp). I barely remember it, so it’s wonderful to have all these details again. I do remember my response to it — much like yours, and how those of us who attended discussed it for days. It seems timely for it to come around again, given so much toxic masculinity in the air. I read Mary Shelley’s novel every 10 years or so. Enjoy! And thanks.
Thank you, Deborah. Field’s adaptation first appeared on stage at the Guthrie during their 1988-89 season.
Interesting take on the story. Now I want to know who lives at the end.
Thanks, Alex. I hope you get a chance to see it some day!
I’d never heard of her story being told in that manner. I can see how it would evoke conversation and thought since we do tend to destroy what we create.
Diane, there is so much to ponder. It’s like a parent-child relationship, but worse because it’s unnatural. And, yet, you can’t help but think about men who abandon their offspring.