It’s likely that when you hear the name Frankenstein a very specific image comes to mind, one that probably involves green skin, stitches, and a pair of bolts.
The first thing to know about this production of Frankenstein, which is the 2011 version written by Nick Dear, is that it definitely has nothing to do with the movie monster you’re thinking of. Dear’s version, which premiered at London’s National Theatre in 2011 with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, tells the story from the perspective of the creature and has done away with all of the “It’s alive!” business.
If Dear’s version wasn’t different enough from Mary Shelley’s original story, then this Nora Theatre Company and Underground Railway Theater production at Central Square Theater is a monster of a different color entirely. But with a director like David R. Gammons at the helm, how could we expect any less?
Gammons, one of Boston’s most intriguing visionaries, has made Frankenstein into a high-concept marvel of theatricality, the audacity of which will repel some but beguile others. And while his production has its problems, most of which have to do with the creature, it nonetheless remains a transfixing experience worthy of your time.
The creature, in this case, is played by all six members of the cast, sometimes all at once and other times just by a few; think of an acting class where the teacher might say: “Okay, class! Now, all together, be an amoeba! Feel the amoeba!”
The actors take turns breaking free from playing the creature to play secondary parts, and take turns giving voice to the monster. It is very difficult to get past this improv class-style, many-headed monster, and the production is not as suspenseful or frightening as it might have been with a singular monster, but that is clearly not the tale that Gammons wanted to tell.
The acting remains first-rate even if I began to pity the cast (Remo Airaldi, David Keohane, John Kuntz, Ashley Risteen, Omar Robinson, and Debra Wise) for the amount of grumbling and panting they had to do as the creature.
But part of what makes this Frankenstein so impressive is the first-rate design elements that give it its spirit. Cristina Todesco’s multipurpose, industrial blank canvas set works wonders along with Jeff Adelberg’s terrific lighting design, and Rachel Padula’s costumes are refreshingly original, even when they sometimes look like they came from a construction-themed episode of Project Runway. Most impressive, though, is David Wilson’s ingenious sound design that gives this production its indispensable sense of mood and place. (Adelberg, Padula, and Wilson all struck similar gold with Gammons’ unforgettable production of Edward II, which played at Actors’ Shakespeare Project last year).
Come armed with an open mind and you just might be swept up in the craft of this stylish retelling of one of our most enduring tales.
FRANKENSTEIN. THROUGH 11.4 AT CENTRAL SQUARE THEATER, 450 MASS. AVE., CAMBRIDGE. CENTRALSQUARETHEATER.ORG