The problem with monsters…is that they take on a life of their own.
Welcome to improv theatre—with a monster.
The University of West Florida’s Book Club presents “Frankenstein: Monster on Trial,” a new courtroom play with the monster up for murder on April 12 at Seville Quarter.
The problem with this “monster” is that there’s no script.
“The actors are developing talking points and will be given script cards,” said Robin Blyn, director of the production and its master of ceremonies. “There’s going to be a lot of flow and improv on those points. And a little vaudeville.”
In the words of that other monster-script writer, Michael Crichton, anything can happen.
“I haven’t even been given the script yet,” said Mary Lowe-Evans, UWF Professor Emeritus of English. She’s playing Mary Wollenstonecraft, the real-life mother of the author of “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley.
Mary Shelley’s life was much like the play: off-script. Shelley’s parents were vehemently anti-marriage and for the rights of women and had affairs and children out of wedlock. Yet her father condemned Shelley when she ran off to Switzerland with a married man, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was in that mountainous country that Mary wrote the amazing “Frankenstein,” set within its Helvetian beauty.
“And Mary’s life is reflected in the novel,” Lowe-Evans said. “It was a life of hypocrisies. It is impossible to expect a person to live their life in a way that is consistent with their philosophies. And while we deal with that every day, the [Frankenstein] monster cannot. He can’t understand conflicting messages and he goes into a rage when there are two conflicting actions or ideas. It causes him to become a monster.”
A victim of that rage is the character Elizabeth Frankenstein, killed by the monster. She’ll be played by UWF student Jessica Marie Green.
“I am so very interested in this role,” Green said. “Like Elizabeth, I’m a newlywed! It’s going to be a lot of fun for both the actors and the audience.”
“It’s going to be a bit like being on the evening news,” said Doug Moon, UWF graduate student, who will be playing the role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. “I’m really enjoying developing my monologue. I’m researching how the trial fits in with the science of the Romantic Period because I don’t want this to be a condemnation of science, but rather seeing the limits of science. But more importantly, I can’t wait to see how the crowd reacts to our improv.”
The cast is excited, but you’re probably thinking, “What’s the monster gonna do in a courtroom drama? Moan and holler and smash-like-Hulk for an hour on stage? Nope.
“Frankenstein’s monster is eloquent in the novel,” Lowe-Evans reminds us. The monster becomes quite the intellect in the book, despite the Mel Brooks’ “Puttin’ On The Ritz” scene in “Young Frankenstein.” But if you’ve seen Boris Karloff, the most famous Frankenstein actor, in any of his other roles—the haughty English nobleman with an arched, smooth, almost seductive voice—you’ll get a better audio-visual of the monster’s capabilities in the original novel.
MURDER ON TRIAL
The crime is murder. But can the monster be held accountable for his crimes? Is he knowledgeable enough to be responsible for his actions?
“The monster’s defense is ‘Why didn’t you stop me?’” Blyn says. “‘How could I know or understand what was at stake? I’m a product of my influence and cannot be held accountable for what I have done and what I have become.’”
So, who’s to judge?
You. You, the audience, are the jury and will vote for the verdict.
“We’ll take a break after the trial,” Blyn said, giving the jury time to confer. During that time there will also be a costume contest, raffle, and a trivia contest. So there’s a lot of perks for coming to the show. [End shameless plug.]
But the actual judge in the play is performed by Al Greene, a retired scientist. When asked whether his background will make him a harsh judge or lend a more sympathetic ear, Greene replied, “I retired in 1999, a senior executive within the industry working full time to deal with the unexpected consequences of chemical water and air pollution and carcinogenic reactions to substances intended to make us more beautiful, live longer, do less work and make us rich.
“But today I continue to note mankind’s ongoing quest for beauty, leisure, wealth and immortality in spite of past errors. The Frankenstein parable lives on.”
Does that bias make him recuse himself as the judge?
Prosecuting the monster will be David Baulch, UWF Associate Professor of English. He’s got a strong case.
“Strictly speaking, the creature is guilty of the murders of William Frankenstein, Elizabeth Lavenza and Henry Clerval,” Baulch said. “Given this, it is fair to try him and convict him of murder. The point that such a prosecutor (and indeed the whole legal process) misses is the extent to which the creature is not an inhuman aberration, but a symptom of the conflicting ideologies we experience as a morally coherent human world.”
If you think this is all highfalutin philosophy, understand that this is the very hot air out of which the Revolution came, birthing our monstrous State of young minds and young ideas.
YOUNG MINDS, YOUNG IDEAS
The Frankenstein trial is a product of UWF’s Capstone Program, which is designed to give graduating English majors a project by which they can demonstrate their talents before they go out into the real world—much like a monster leaving the controlled environment of a lab. And what if this monster, this wild creature of improv and pseudo-scripts and sci-fi takes on a life of its own, ad-libbing left and right? What if something goes very, very wrong?
Blyn said that as the director and MC, she’ll be refereeing the performance and will be prepared to rein in the zannies if they get out of hand.
I think Dr. Frankenstein said that, too.
‘FRANKENSTEIN: MONSTER ON TRIAL’
WHEN: April 12, 7pm.
WHERE: Phineas Phogg’s in Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
COST: $10 General Admission, $7 Students, $5 Arrive in Costume
DETAILS: (251) 236-1245 or uwf.edu/bookclub/