Making a Monster

Find some discarded body parts; grab a tool box: hack-hack, saw-saw, cut-cut, stitch-stitch, read up on your ancient alchemy (copies at every local library, I’m sure), add a jolt of electrical energy, a splash of elixir, and voila, you have a creature. The creator might call it his “baby.” Some might call it an oddity. Others might call it an aberration. And still others (the less imaginative among us), a monster. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley called it “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.” We all know what happened to poor Prometheus who thought he could steal fire from the gods and get away with it. Ah, the unintended consequences of hubris.

Mary Shelley by Samuel John Stump; 1831

One evening in 1816, a group of romantic bohemians were living in Geneva, and in an attempt to ward off boredom, Lord Byron blurted out “We will each write a ghost story.” Everyone thought it a grand idea, but none of these romantics could focus their creative and poetic natures into writing a good yarn; except for Ms. Shelley. Bryon lay down the gauntlet, and Mary Shelley picked it up. Eighteen months after Bryon’s challenge, Mary Shelley published “Frankenstein.” She was pregnant when she started writing “Frankenstein,” and pregnant again when she finished. Here was a beautiful confluence of “pregnant” creativity.

After two centuries of this story existing in the public consciousness, we often confuse the moniker Frankenstein. It has become the interchangeable designation between that of the creator and that of the creature. It is a frequent misconception when a story has morphed into a mythology, and the two main characters have merged into a duality of a common title and identity. But there are stark differences between the Doctor and the Creature…I hesitate to refer to Dr. Frankenstein’s creation as a monster. The literary critic, Harold Bloom, has pointed out a significant difference in an essay he wrote on Shelley’s story, “Frankenstein’s tragedy stems not from his Promethean excess but from his own moral error, his failure to love; he abhorred his creature, became terrified, and fled his responsibilities.” It is a tragedy when we fail to love, and perhaps the “failure to love” is what creates monsters of us all. We are all “fearfully and wonderfully made,” as the psalmist wrote, but it is the responsible and volitional acts of genuine love that makes us human and not just stitched together parts of anatomy.

Actor Nat McIntyre models as  the Creature; photo by MA2LA

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Shelley’s novel, Studio Tenn has commissioned a new stage adaptation of “Frankenstein” by A.S. Peterson for its first play of the 2018/2019 season. The playwright has done a brilliant job of presenting Ms. Shelley’s multiple conflicts and tensions between the human desire to create and the results of one’s creation. What an individual might create with the noblest of intentions, and perhaps for the good of all mankind, may in the end, turn out to have monstrous qualities or actually become a monster. Just think of Einstein and Oppenheimer contemplating the incomprehensible power of atomic energy that became the bomb. Or think of Steve Jobs and the proliferation of his IPhone. Have we not witnessed some of the darker aspects of being attached to our hand-held devices?

Then there is Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe he and his buddies should have slept-in more in their Harvard dorm rooms instead of being the genesis’ they were/are by creating Facebook. Who knew the urge to create a social media platform to connect billions of people around the world who just wanted to share pictures of their children and grandchildren, their pets, their graduations, their vacations, their birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries, their personal viewpoints on any and every subject (guilty as charged), their humorous/heart-warming/inspiring/silly/inane/ridiculous videos, and, my personal favorite, their doctor visits and hospital stays…really? Do we really need to see bandages and IV’s and bruises and/or stitches and open sores (Yeah, I do occasionally show my inner curmudgeon exposing my pet-peeves, but then again, maybe these medical posts are revealing the Poster’s inner Frankenstein)? And that all these wonderful and not so wonderful ways to use social media would someday be commandeered by the Russians? Zuckerberg’s creation has become the monster, and like Dr. Frankenstein, he has had to face the consequences.

Victor Frankenstein was also a university student when he watched his creation come to life: “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” After all the destruction that follows once the creature is fully animate, the good doctor probably wished he had slept-in more and skipped a few classes like most normal college students. But then we wouldn’t have the great “Frankenstein” movies with actors from Boris Karloff to Peter Boyle playing the creature.

Boris Karloff as a “man-about-town” Creature; photo by John Kobal

Peter Boyle as the Creature in “Young Frankenstein”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Beware of what you wish for in youth, because you will get it in middle life.” He should know; Goethe wrote “Dr. Faustus” the quintessential tale of “getting what you wish for.” Maybe we all should just consider sleeping-in more often.

We all seek to validate our existence, and make efforts….sometimes heroic, other times pitiful…to give meaning and justification for taking up space on this planet. Mary Shelley’s story as adapted by Peterson and produced by the creative team of Studio Tenn (myself included), has the artistic fiber of re-imagining this great tale that transcends its age. The company will present their version to the public in September. If you think you know this story, think again. It is a beautifully crafted cautionary tale that is as powerful and poignant today as it was when originally written, and I venture to say, as good as any Sunday homily and more entertaining. Visit the Studio Tenn website for all the details.

 

Cover and Poster Art: MA2LA