“Frankenstein: The Man/The Monster?” performed by the Sopris Theatre Company at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) is a thought-provoking retelling of the 1818 classic horror tale, “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus,” penned by an 18-year-old Mary Godwin, later known by her married name, Mary Shelley.
An original musical, “Frankenstein: The Man/The Monster?” was first published in book form by author and award-winning composer Carol Weiss. Brad Moore, theater operations manager at CMC, directs this production.
The play’s backstory originates with the historic 1815 volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora, located in present-day Indonesia. The volcano’s ash debris and toxic gas caused the deaths of an estimated 10,000 people. Its aftermath created a volcanic winter that led to drastic temperature drops in the Northern Hemisphere during the summer of 1816, known as the Year Without a Summer. It led to a worldwide spread of disease and famine caused by failed crops.
The play opens in that rainy and unforgivably cold summer, with Mary and her younger stepsister, Claire, vacationing at the Villa Diodati estate as guests of Lord Byron, one of the leading figures in the English Romantic movement.
When Mary wrote her horror masterpiece, Tambora’s environmental disaster weighed heavy on her mind. Audience members can draw parallels to Weiss’ warning that today’s climate change is partly the result of man-made materials which threaten our habitat.
The estate in the Swiss Alps near Lake Geneva includes other house guests, like Percy Bysshe Shelley, a celebrated English Romantic poet portrayed by well-established Roaring Fork Valley actor Travis Wilson. In dual roles, Wilson also portrays the fictional amateur scientist Victor Frankenstein.
Wilson brings a believable and nuanced portrayal of Victor, an eager science enthusiast striving to make a name for himself amongst world-renowned scientists by embarking on the dangerous path of becoming godlike by giving life to a creature stitched together from corpses.
Byron’s personal physician, Dr. John Polidori, played by Otto “Mitch” Kucera, accompanies Byron on his European travels. Kucera also portrays Victor’s confidant, Henry.
In a triumphant display of her acting range, Hattie Rensberry portrays Mary, the savvy and vivacious world traveler who rises to the challenge posed by Lord Byron to four dinner companions, “to create the most haunting tale.” She then transitions into the demure and faithful Elizabeth, Victor’s fiancée, who patiently awaits the return of her beloved Victor, consumed with his medical experiments.
Comedic relief is provided by Mrs. Chesterton, played by Bostyn Elswick, the production’s associate choreographer, and her three young daughters, played by Jess Bowler, Ashley Sprenger and Peyton “Pax” Wild. Mama Chesterton is obsessed with eager, yet futile, attempts to marry off her daughters to the first available, and somewhat unwilling, suitors.
Set designer Thomas Ward uses a minimalist and craggy facade to represent the Swiss Alps, colored a dreary gray to reveal the foreboding cloud that hangs over Victor, Frankenstein and the panicked and armed villagers.
Gerald DeLisser plays the misunderstood Creature, who later takes the name of the man who gave him life: Frankenstein.
DeLisser modulates his vocal performance to portray the emotionally wounded and, at times, vengeful Creature Frankenstein. He skillfully conveys an empathetic understanding that the Creature has been dealt the ultimate bad hand — he is the grotesque, patched-together invention, given life by the naive and irresponsible Victor.
Morgan Walsh portrays The Blind Woman who cannot see the Creature’s hideous form and, therefore, is not repulsed by him. Not understanding the source of the villager’s fears, she attempts to come to Frankenstein’s aid as other villagers attack him.
Rounding out the cast are Michael Banks, Courtney Lindgren, Jay Edmonds, Lindsey Hamilton, Lydia Mitchell, Christopher Wheatley and Ben Williams.
In her third STC production as dramaturg, Lily Wymer asks us a moral question. “Weiss’ ‘Monster or Man?’ stitches together Mary’s timeless novel with the unusual circumstances of its conception to drive the audience to a single question: who is to be feared, truly, the creator or his creation?”
The remaining performances are on April 21 and 22 at 7 pm and April 23 at 2 pm. The April 21 performance will be livestreamed as well. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors, CMC students and employees, and can be purchased at www.coloradomtn.edu or by calling the box office at 970-947-8177.