There are two stars in Book-It's adaptation of Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus, a 19th-century gothic novel written by a well-connected and precocious teenager, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. One is a thing and the other is a human being. Let me begin with the thing. It is white, about 10 feet tall, covers half the stage, and dominates the first half of this production, which concerns the story of how a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein (played by Connor Toms) decided to master chemistry, the new science of his day, and challenge the deepest laws of biology (that only life creates life, and life must always end in death) by creating a new life form from the electrocuted parts of human corpses. The second part of the play concerns the terrible consequences of the scientist's hubris.
The function of this thing, a curtain, is to play with shadows and light, and to move time and space by opening onto other locations: From a ship in the arctic, it opens into Frankenstein's childhood home, and takes us to a forest, a snowy mountain in the Alps, and the scientist's laboratory. (Andrea Bryn Bush designed the set, and Andre D. Smith designed the lighting.) The curtain almost floats above the floor, and in some scenes, it is spookily caressed or pulled back in panic by the mad scientist. The ghostliness of the white curtain, and the projections of human and inhuman shadows across it, enhances the production's haunted and gothic mood. The reason this curtain is the star of the first and longest part of Frankenstein is because, though there's nothing wrong with the performances or the adaptation—which, if my memory serves me, appears to be faithful to the original—neither is there anything exceptional about them. All that stands out in this section is the marvelous curtain: its formidable folds, its evil airiness, the lunacy of its whiteness.
The star of the second part is played by a human, Jim Hamerlinck. (Hamerlinck is an actor in a film I helped to write, You Can't Win, but I had no idea of this connection until I read the program three days after watching the play.) Hamerlinck plays the monster Frankenstein created. He has lots of wild hair, is weirdly tall, and moves about the stage like a big beast. The monster also speaks with a seemingly Eastern European accent, whereas his creator speaks with an English accent. (In the novel, the monster came into life in Germany but its creator was born in Geneva.) For the first five or so minutes of the second half, one is not sure if this strange accent will succeed or fall on its face. And indeed, it is precisely this uncertainty that works to Hamerlinck's advantage. The director, David Quicksall, was smart enough to guide the uncertainty we feel about the monster's language to the general uncertainty we feel more and more, as the play progresses, about the monster's predicament—his claim that humans are to blame for everything, that they are unfriendly, that society made him what he is, a murderer. You have to understand his situation, yes, but how can you side with a killer? How can you side with his creator? Is it fair to kill the monster? He did not ask to be alive. He now has a mind of his own. He is lonely and needs a companion. Give him what he needs.
So strong is Hamerlinck's performance of this famous monster that one completely forgets the thing, the other star, the ghostly curtain. It's as if it vanished into thin air.