By John Lyle Belden
When dealing with a familiar favorite story, the best part is in how it’s told.
In “Frankenstein: The Radio Play,” presented by Epilogue Players, Mary Shelley’s classic novel is presented as a radio drama produced in 1940s London – an escape from the horrors of the real world. Adapted by Philip Grecian from his stage play, based on Shelley’s 1818 book, the production gives us a theatre of the mind experience while providing a glimpse into how the audio magic is made.
The immersive experience goes a step further by not renaming the actors as British counterparts, and by including radio ads promoting every advertiser in the program. This may be the best promotion English Ivy’s restaurant and bar (in today’s Indianapolis, just down the street) has ever gotten.
Craig Kemp (actually from the U.K., by the way) voices the titular figure, Victor Frankenstein – whom any literature buff will note is the true “monster” of the novel – in fine fashion, from the soothing doctor in love to the ecstatic “it’s ALIVE!” during the creature’s “birth.” Other actors provide major and minor parts (the broadcast audience can’t see them, so switching is a manner of inflection, which they easily do). Principally, Alex Bast is the doctor’s friend and assistant, Henry Clerval; Dale W. Smith is their peer, Professor Waldman; Caity Withers, the studio announcer and producer, is Baroness Frankenstein; Phoebe Aldridge is young Catherine Frankenstein; Melody Simms is Catherine’s governess, Justine Moritz; Bella King is Victor’s cousin and fiancé, Elizabeth Frankenstein; Grant Bowen is Arctic explorer Capt. Robert Walton, as well as the blind man, Delacey; and Jason Creighton is The Creature (usually referred to by epithets, by himself as Adam/Lucifer, but never as his “father’s” name), giving an appropriately powerful rendition of the misunderstood beast.
Also deserving of star billing are foley artists Amanda Greene, Roger E. Dutcher, Karen Markle, and Zach Thompson, who undertake complex effects with as close as the era allowed to surround-sound. Seeing the various gadgets used only adds to the fun while their acoustical accuracy doesn’t break their spell. Daniel Watson directs and composed some of the music, performed by Bethany Watson on piano.
Glancing over the novel’s plot summary as well as various films from James Whale to Kenneth Branagh and variations including breakfast cereal and Abbot & Costello, I probably should make some notes of the story here. This play does start and end on Cpt. Walton’s ship approaching the North Pole. Henry sounds quite handsome, with no hunchback noted, and is a fellow scientist, not a servant. Also, a critical plot point, the brain supplied to the creature is that of a genius Victor admires (not “Abbie Normal”), which becomes evident at the Adam’s clarity after his initial mental fog, making his reasoned impulses for revenge more menacing. Finally, there is no postmodern wink or sight-gags among the English cast; this show is played for chills, not laughs.
Performances run through Feb. 26. Space is limited at the little theatre on Hedback Corner, 1849 N. Alabama St., and tickets are selling fast. Get yours at EpiloguePlayers.com.