Play review: MNSU Theatre’s Frankenstein

I realized last week that it’s my last year attending Minnesota State University, Mankato, and I had not yet seen one of our theatre productions. I decided it was time for that to change when I saw posters for Frankenstein, the latest production from the MNSU theatre department.

What initially caught my attention about Frankenstein was that it featured an all-female cast. I was curious why the director, Heather Hamilton, made this choice in casting. In the production’s program, Hamilton wrote that the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, lost four out of the five children she bore. Shelley herself grew up motherless, as her own mother had died while giving Shelley life.

“It can be no coincidence that, after losing both her mother and her first baby to complications with pregnancy and childbirth, she wrote a story in which her protagonist can create a child without the process of birth,” wrote Hamilton.

“What about the story changes when it is women who bring life to the monster, just as Shelley herself did in writing him?”

The depth of this question was profound to me and I still cannot grasp the answer. This is the mark of quality literature and theatre – it keeps its audience deep in thought long after they close the book or leave the auditorium.

The style of this play was in-the-round, which means that the stage is in the center of the room, surrounded by the audience on all four sides. I’d never attended an in-the-round play before, so when I walked in I was doubtful of the strategy. I have FOMO (fear of missing out) and didn’t want to miss any important facial expressions or character exchanges simply because I was on the wrong side of the room. However, the cast used in-the-round to their advantage. I noticed that the characters alternated which side they faced during their conversations, and even in scenes when I could only see their backs, it worked in their favor and added to the suspense. For instance, when Frankenstein first arose, he faced away from me, but that only made him seem even more spooky. I was convinced I was sitting on the best side of the in-the-round theatre because every scene flowed so smoothly and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

My favorite character, and best actress in my opinion, was Dr. Victor Frankenstein, played by senior Alyssa Johnson. Johnson effortlessly adopted this mad scientist personality and everything was consistent – the way she swirled the tail of her long lab coat out of her way while up in the laboratory, her long manly paces around the stage, and the clasp of her hands behind her back. She looked completely comfortable as Dr. Frankenstein and made the character believable. Her mass of dark curly hair added to the physical appearance of the doctor.

The cast performed Frankenstein Avant Garde, which is a field of drama that focuses on the message and emotions behind scenes. Avant Garde productions require the audience to use their own imaginations as far as set, characters, and props are concerned because many of them will be exaggerated or unrealistic.

For instance, in this play, the Creature himself was a prop, manned by three women in black who moved him up and down like a puppet. There were also unrealistic elements about females playing male characters. However, the spooky ambience and underlying themes to the play overshadowed any exaggeration in props. That’s one thing I love about watching plays – I get to use my imagination, too, and everything is very authentic, as it all unfolds right in front of me. Plays get away with things that movies never could.

Some of the dialogue was very repetitive and dull, but all the characters were likeable and the Creature presented a difficult moral complex.

Frankenstein has kept me thinking days after seeing it and I give it four out of five stars. I may even go read the original manuscript, so I can get more background on this production.

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