Old Deerfield Productions: 'Frankenstein,' who is the real monster?
Joseph Dulude II photo
Linda McInerney of Old Deerfield Productions is known for attracting great talent and for “Frankenstein” that includes Greenfield actor Lindel Hart, pictured, who also wrote the screenplay, and Joe Dulude II, a makeup designer whose credits include shows for Broadway and television.
Lindel Hart as The Creature in the First National Bank Building on Bank Row in Greenfield. Recorder/Paul Franz
Editor's note: After this story originally ran, two Sunday performances were added to this production because it had sold out: July 20 and July 27. Here are the updated show notes: MARY SHELLEY’S “FRANKENSTEIN,” a new adaption by Lindel Hart. July 17-20 and July 24-27, at 8 p.m. at the First National Bank Building, Bank Row, Greenfield. Tickets are $20 and are available online at: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/685438.
Of course, the “monster” will be there, in Greenfield’s former First National Bank.
So will Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Mary Shelley, who wrote the classic 1818 novel on which Old Deerfield Productions’ latest play is based.
But don’t expect this version of “Frankenstein” this month to be anything like the legendary Boris Karloff movie. It’s likely to be more frightening than anything Hollywood could dish out, and more of a horror tale than you’ve imagined. (And that’s not because it includes murder or rape scenes, either.)
The setting, in the cavernous, starkly surreal former bank, may seem simple. Yet Director Linda McInerney has assembled a virtuoso array of talent, including one of Broadway’s most imaginative makeup artists and an Albanian video artist who flew in from Europe last month to prepare for the show.
The 75 seats, set up on either side of the entrance to the former bank’s main hall, will present the cavernous space as a backdrop to the drama, but use of video cameras will also take the audience into eerie side chambers as well.
And then there’s the Creature itself, portrayed by Greenfield actor Lindel Hart, who also wrote a script that looks at who is truly the monster and that makes it clear this is a story for here and now.
McInerney had been wrestling for the past three years with how to create “the new story we have to build in order to not become extinct.”
Then, from out of nowhere, “I was really knocked out of my chair” reading Shelley’s prophetic novel, said McInerney, whose fertile imagination and organizational skills have also given birth to the 2004 play, “The Captivation of Eunice Williams,” a 2012 opera based on the life of Sojourner Truth, Greenfield’s Double Take Fringe Festival ... and lots more.
Old Deerfield Productions’ artistic director was shaken by Shelley’s cautionary tale of the Industrial Age, “when ego takes over and drives the train, when we don’t understand our interconnection, (and so) we create a creature that destroys everything it comes into contact with. And the missing element is love.”
The 19-year-old Shelley, who published the novel anonymously, had her mother die when she was an infant. Shelly was raised by an emotionally aloof father who disowned her because of her marriage to poet Percy Shelley.
The story of Frankenstein, “more prescient than any 19-year-old could have possibly imagined,” grew out of an era much like our own, McInerney says. There was so much fascination over newly discovered electricity at the time that public spectacles to reanimate dead flesh were common.
The Greenfield production will run July 17 to 19 and July 24 to 26. It took three years to create and a year for Hart to adapt from Shelley’s densely written, 280-page novel. It also casts accomplished Wendell actor Court Dorsey as Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Dorsey also plays three other parts, including his own fiancée as well as his younger brother and a blind musician. Both are murdered by the Creature.
“I think there will be fear,” says McInerney, who advises parental discretion, in part because of one scene that includes nudity. “But, fear is not the intention. The intention is to offer this beautifully drawn, under-appreciated story that has so much relevance for now.”
New Salem actress Jane Williams, in the role of Mary Shelley herself, doesn’t participate in most of the play’s action but, with a handheld video camera, she manipulates the imagery for the production.
“We’re using her as a heart and mind through which the audience perceives the story,” explains McInerney. It is a timely story, she adds, of ambition coming before “awareness of the heart, and the damage that can be created.”
In addition to Hart, whom McInerney had seen perform in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” and had since sought a part to cast him in, McInerney has involved a projection artist she met during Old Deerfield Productions’ Eastern European tour of “My Bronx.”
“Florean Changa is a genius,” she says of the Albanian videographer who flew into Greenfield to bring today’s scientific “horrors” to bear on Shelley’s 19th-century work.
McInerney also heard through a friend about Joe Dulude II, a makeup designer whose credits for Broadway, television and major theater productions around the country have included “Wicked,” “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical,” “Catch Me if You Can” and “Follies.”
Dulude, who recently moved to Northampton, was less interested in making Frankenstein’s Creature into the square-headed, green-faced cartoon icon known by every child and more interested in depicting a contemporary “monster.”
“If there ever would be a human being on earth who would be inspired and have the skill set to do Frankenstein’s makeup, it would be Joe Dulude,” McInerney proclaims. “He said, ‘If we’re talking about what makes the ‘other’ in the here and now, let’s do it with gender and race.’” So, the Creature’s body is a patchwork put together from parts of different people of various races and genders.
A ‘sensitive’ Creature
Hart, a 41-year-old yoga teacher, had taken a 20-year hiatus from experimental theater in New York and Pittsburgh before moving to Greenfield a dozen years ago. As the Creature, he brings the sensibility of someone familiar with the complex weave of stories in “Frankenstein,” which he first read about 25 years ago.
“The Creature is a sensitive, sentient being and very intelligent, not the kind of monosyllabic zombie we’ve come to think of,” he says. “Mary Shelley, who was wrestling with a lot of her own demons, wrote a phenomenal story that examines the paradox of looking like a monster but not really being one at heart until pushed by circumstances to go beyond your normal morality and innate sense of right and wrong. It’s an abandoned child, yearning for the attention of a parent who’s distant, aloof, unavailable.”
“When you realize this sentient being has never even been given an identity, that’s really a profound moment,” says Hart. “What does that feel like to be someone who has no parents, no name, no identity. It’s been fascinating to be in that, spiraling into that state of recognizing that I’m no one, that there’s nobody in world who knows who I am. ... And how demeaning that is.”
As Hart was writing the script, he and McInerney wanted to examine what it means to be “the other,” not only as Shelley had presented it, but to pull the 300-year-old story forward in terms of race, gender and sexuality, maybe even social class. They also wanted to explore the ways science and nature come together in ways that seem to become ever more frightening, “taking us into this new world that is even more precariously balanced than the day before,” he says.
Although the story of Frankenstein may have been influenced by a host of macabre elements in Shelley’s life — including her visit to the German region of Frankenstein’s Castle, with its legends of a 17th-century alchemist who was said to have created an elixir of life — it also has deep connections to our own time.
“We’re still living that Industrial Revolution story, in that place where if we can build it, we will; if we can extract it, we do,” McInerney says. “All of our old constructs are based on a reality that we know doesn’t work at all and will bring about our demise. The irony is that the new story is all around us, with all kinds people who know how to allow a sustainable world. But for some reason we’re stuck in a construct that doesn’t allow for it to happen.”
If McInerney’s approach to discovering new possibilities for the production along the way inspires unimaginable possibilities, her start-to-finish way of rehearsing the script gives the players an organic way of discovering their roles, just the way real life does for all of us, says Hart. For him, watching his own innocent Creature character unfold emotionally has been rewarding.
“In the adult world, that sense of wonder and innocence is largely gone and we never get to experience something for the first time again,” he says. “To be able to let go of some of that and come back into a childlike quality of innocence — especially knowing what comes later in terms of the Creature’s trajectory — is fascinating.”
Victor Frankenstein, too, is not an evil character, but is shown a someone who’s “gone over the edge, and instead of advancing science, he’s advancing his own ego,” says Hart. “And what happens when the ego goes out of control, what damage is done not only to the immediate environment, but to the world at large? Personal responsibility is huge in this story.”
Dorsey describes the mad scientist he plays as someone who “doesn’t understand limits to what should be done and becomes a victim of that.”
“As an image of the human ego, the human overreach, which is brilliant technically but unable to see its place in the spirit of the universe, the creature really becomes a prophetic warning,” he added.
“Frankenstein,” told from the point of view of the Creature itself, asks, “What’s it like to be born an innocent?” in McInerney’s words, “to be discarded, to be ravaged, to be the ‘other,’ made from discarded parts and have your essential humanity denied and when does the sufferer create the suffering?”
In the cavernous space of the bank, the play is what Hart calls a “shockingly intimate” story that calls on the audience, as Shelley did, to confront its own inner demons.
To watch McInerney and Hart’s “little movie” about the production, go online to http://tinyurl.com/nahwe6c
Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at The Recorder for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 269.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.