Frankenstein: A Trouble Puppet Show
Alive again, but this time it's a potato
Contrary to popular belief, Frankenstein is not a monster. Frankenstein is the man who made the monster. (His first name's Victor.) Also contrary to what one might assume, Mary Shelley's book about the man who made the monster is not so good. At least according to Connor Hopkins, who reread it and adapted it for Trouble Puppet Theater Company's production, opening this week at the City Theatre. "The book itself makes for very poor drama," he insists. "Essentially, Victor studies for one-third of the book. Then he creates the monster in about a sentence and a half, at which point he falls ill and languishes in bed for two months. Then there's the end, where essentially nothing happens." Though the book may be dull, the story clearly caught people's imaginations and has held on ever since, being created and re-created. "There have been so many versions of it over the years that no one can differentiate the movie version from the book version from any of the sequels and adaptations." Now Hopkins can add his name to the ranks of reinventors as he happily charges in his own inventive direction.
Puppetry is the perfect medium for telling the Frankenstein story. Characters that have been stitched together and brought to life will be telling the tale of a creature who is stitched together and brought to life. Though, in this case, the creature will be grown rather than stitched. Partway through the creation process, Hopkins was inspired to make his Victor a genius in herbology as well as alchemy. The creature is a hybrid of plant and human tissue, with a dash of fungus and poison thrown in for good measure. Hopkins describes it as a "giant potato." Victor Frankenstein had a furious and complex relationship with his creation, and so does Hopkins with his puppets: "There's this point, it's usually about two weeks from opening, when I generally reach the conclusion that the entire show needs to be trashed, and I need to start over." Spoken like a true mad scientist.
Trouble Puppet is known for its socially conscious works, such as The Case of the Haymarket Riot and The Trial of Guy Fawkes. Frankenstein is a bit of a departure for the company, a stab at staging a story for pure fun. It had always wanted to do a Halloween show, and Hopkins is drawn to a classical strain of spooky. "I like things that have a lot of fog and cemeteries and the moon." But don't be fooled into thinking this show won't make you think. The monster's soliloquies dig on the idea of original sin. And what's a 19th century story without a bit of 21st century political humor? Hopkins gives a sly smile: "We've got wisecracks about the economic bailout plan." But for the most part, Trouble Puppet's Frankenstein will entertain in a way that is only possible with puppetry. What other medium could give you sentient houseplants conversing with a head in a jar?
Frankenstein: A Trouble Puppet Show runs Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 30-Nov. 16, 8pm, at the City Theatre, 3823 Airport. For more information, call 474-8497 or visit www.troublepuppet.com.