Five Faces of Frankenstein
Austin stages offer a variety of takes on the monster and his maker, from a puppet version to a comic opera to Mel Brooks' musical to The Rocky Horror Show
The Modern Prometheus has gone postmodern. Or maybe post-postmodern. It's hard to tell these days, what with all the various versions of the Frankenstein story terrorizing the countryside. In Austin alone, five radically different variations on Mary Shelley's monster and his maker are on offer this Halloween season – and interestingly, none of them bear much resemblance to the tortured twentysomething med student and well-spoken, Milton-spouting monster in her 1818 novel. Do you like your Frankenstein with a wild gleam in his eye, raving madly, "It's alive! It's a-live!"? Or do you prefer him in fishnets and a lascivious lipsticked smile, inviting you to his lab to "see what's on the slab"? Is your creature of choice a childlike, tortured shambler, only able to grunt, or a tuxedoed "man about town" with a penchant for Irving Berlin (if not the smoothest crooning voice)? You have your pick of these and more, and so you'll know which reanimator and reanimatee are which, here's a brief guide to the Franks in town.
1. Frankenstein: The Trouble Puppet Show
Trouble Puppet Theatre Artistic Director Connor Hopkins thought Frankenstein would make a good puppet play, but since he found Shelley's novel "poor drama," he spiced it up in various ways, like giving it a steampunk edge, making the creature a fusion of animal and vegetable material – a "giant potato," he called it – and having him lead his creator on a merry chase across Europe that winds through an abandoned Romanian asylum and Paris' sewers during the Reign of Terror. Note: Halloween party after the Oct. 31 show. Audience members encouraged to come in costume.
The Creator: Victor, blue-skinned, wall-eyed, with an arrogance as extravagant as his mane of black hair. Fluent in biology, botany, and black magic, all of which help him bring a human/plant hybrid to life.
The Creature: Half-man, half-plant, all angry, and all action. With great scars across its body, this "giant potato" bounds across rooftops and seeks revenge.
Oct. 29-Nov. 22, Thu.-Sat., 8pm; Sun., 6pm. Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd. www.fetchsomebrains.bpt.me
2. There's Beauty in the Beast
Everyone knows Dr. Frankenstein can bring corpses back to life, but can this reanimator revive a dead marriage? That's the question in this Austin-created operetta in which a lovelorn Mme. Frankenstein turns to her hubby's "brain wave" device to make a change that will give their love new life. Esther's Follies alums Michael Nesline and Steve Saugey are the mad scientists behind this "transgender tale of love and betrayal" that's in three acts but runs just 45 minutes. The story also involves Egor and the maid Lazee Suzanne, who both feel they aren't living in their own skins and have their own plan for the brain device. One Ounce Opera stages the premiere.
The Creator: Victor, typically consumed by his work to the exclusion of all else, including in this variation, his wife. His raison d'être, says Nesline, is to rescue life from death, though it kills his marriage.
The Creature: Inert, awaiting a living brain, which it acquires from the person who loves Frankenstein the most. As a result, this Creature revives with a feminine side that Shelley never imagined.
Who Gets It: Pretty much everybody, but with a protagonist who's all about raising the dead, do you think anyone who's deceased has to stay that way?
Oct. 23-31, Fri., 7pm; Sat., 7 & 9:30pm. Staged at a private residence. www.oneounceopera.com
3. UT Wind Ensemble: Frankenstein
Universal's 1931 film, directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff, is the take on Shelley's story most folks know, but the Oct. 29 screening at Bass Concert Hall will boast something most folks won't: a score. Since the film lacked the expansive music of its sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, the Chappaqua Orchestra commissioned Michael Shapiro to compose a score in 2001, and the UT Wind Ensemble, conducted by Jerry Junkin, will play it to accompany the 70-minute film. The concert also features Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Bach's Toccata and Fugue.
The Creator: Victor at his most obsessed and batty (and British), as played by Colin Clive. His unhinged glee at the monster's hand stirring has set the bar for "mad scientist" for 84 years.
The Creature: A desperately lonely newborn in a brute's body. Karloff had no words to work with, but his anguished expressions, even under mountains of makeup, earn our sympathies.
Who Gets It: The only person in the film to befriend the creature: a little girl who no doubt regrets teaching him to toss flowers in the lake.
Thu., Oct. 29, 7:30pm. Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman, UT campus. www.music.utexas.edu
4. Young Frankenstein
When Mel Brooks' Broadway musical of The Producers proved a license to print money, it was inevitable the comic genius would take another of his films down the stage musical path. And why not his funny valentine to Universal's first Frankenstein films? While not quite the smash its predecessor was, this Young Frankenstein – with such numbers as "The Transylvania Mania," "He Vas My Boyfriend," and, of course, "Puttin' On the Ritz" – has been hugely popular among regional theatres, as seen by the Georgetown Palace Theatre production, staged by Artistic Director Mary Ellen Butler.
The Creator: Not Victor Frankenstein, but Frederick "Fronkensteen," who rejects the family business until he inherits Granddad's lab. Hilariously overconfident, but that's also part of his charm.
The Creature: A stiff-limbed growler, like Karloff's, but more skeptical of humans, born of experience with them doing things like pouring hot soup in his lap and setting his thumb on fire.
Who Gets It: Frederick, albeit not at his monster's hands. The villagers hang him, but he's ultimately revived by the Creature after he gains intelligence.
Through Nov. 8, Fri.-Sat., 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm. Georgetown Palace Theatre, 810 S. Austin Ave., Georgetown, 512-869-7469. www.georgetownpalace.com
5. The Rocky Horror Show
True, the seduction of Brad and Janet by a fishnet-stockinged, pearls-bedecked alien scientist is worlds away from Shelley's story, but really, where would everyone's favorite "sweet tranvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania" be without Frankenstein? And though the Creature actually gets title billing here, the man-made hunk isn't even as articulate as Karloff's Monster and much less compelling. No, this is Frank-N-Furter's show, all the way, and his transgressions have less to do with playing God than playing both sides of the bed. Austin Theatre Project presents the latest stage incarnation of the cult musical.
The Creator: A self-described "wild and an untamed thing," Dr. Frank-N-Furter uses his discovery of "the secret of life" to build the ideal lover boy. He's an erotic trickster, Pan in a lab coat.
The Creature: Blond and tan with muscles in all the right places, Rocky is 180 degrees from Shelley's cadaverous horror in looks – and brains, too, since his views on life come down to "pretty big downer."
Who Gets It: Creator and Creature both, but at the hands of servant Riff Raff, who, having had enough of Frank and, apparently, Earthling sex, zaps them before rocketing back to Planet Transylvania.
Oct. 30-Nov. 14, Thu.-Sat., 7:30pm; Sun., 5:30pm; with 11pm shows Oct. 31 & Nov. 6. Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale. www.austintheatreproject.org