Arts & Culture

This ‘Frankenstein’ is more a tale of longing than horror

Niclas Olson, left, as Victor Frankenstein and Ben Stahl as the Creature in the New Muses Theatre Company’s production of “Frankenstein.”
Niclas Olson, left, as Victor Frankenstein and Ben Stahl as the Creature in the New Muses Theatre Company’s production of “Frankenstein.” Courtesy of New Muses Theatre Company

It is past time Tacomans come to know New Muses Theatre Company.

Over the past few years, this relatively unknown independent company has produced a slew of high-quality plays. Most but not all of their works are adapted by company founder Niclas Olson from great works of literature and performed in the upstairs performance space at Dukesbay Theater on Sixth Avenue in Tacoma to – sadly – sparse crowds.

Olson not only adapts the works himself, but he also nearly always directs and performs in major roles. Their shows are invariably well produced with outstanding sets and lighting, and fine actors, all despite limited budgets.

New Muses’ latest production is “Frankenstein.”

The well-constructed story and dramatic presentation bear no resemblance to any of the many movie versions of the story nor to the comic film and stage musical by Mel Brooks.

This version is based on and is true to the original novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

The bare bones story is that Victor Frankenstein (Olson) creates a living creature who looks horrifying but has a kind and loving heart. He resorts to anger, hate and eventually murder only after being beaten and cast out by humans who fear him because of his appearance and his inability to communicate.

In this version, the creature (Ben Stahl) can’t speak at first but gradually learns to talk and becomes quite eloquent.

The story is epistolary, told in the beginning through a series of letters and eventually told by the creature himself.

It begins with Capt. Walton (Nick Clawson) writing to his sister, Margaret (Jenna McRill). Walton tells of being trapped in the arctic ice and of rescuing a man (Frankenstein) floating on the frozen sea, and of the mysterious story Frankenstein tells him.

Finally, the creature confronts his creator and tells of his loneliness, of the pain of rejection and of eventually turning to murder.

Rather than a tale of horror such as it has been made into by many adaptations, it is a sad tale of longing and misunderstanding.

It is not an easy play to watch. It is dark, morbid and intensely dramatic. And it is a tour de force of acting by the four-person cast, including two cast members who switch constantly between 18 different characters, convincingly so without resorting to costume or makeup or any special effects.

The audience is able to keep up with who is who simply because of context, what they say and how they say it.

In addition to Walton, Clawson plays Frankenstein’s father, a blind man and a judge, a priest, a shepherd and a villager, among others. McRill plays Frankenstein’s cousin Elizabeth, his mother, a woman falsely accused of murder and others.

The set, designed by Olson, adds immensely to the drama, and creates a rough and foreboding sense of time and place. Ragged and sheer curtains allow for shocking set changes, creation of the monster and even a hanging without having to resort to expensive special effects.

Warning: there are loud sound effects, strobe lights and simulated gunfire.

The play, which runs through Sunday afternoon, is 90 minutes long and is presented without an intermission. Seats are not cushioned; I noticed some audience members brought their own cushions, which is a good idea.

There were plenty of available seats the night I attended, but the space in its current configuration seats only 20, so buying tickets online is recommended.

alec@alecclayton.com

If you go

Tickets and other information is available at www.newmuses.com

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