Horror Show: Newly Imagined ‘Frankenstein’ Opens Zoetic’s 10th Season

Mary Shelley’s classic will get a fresh take in the South Florida premiere of Nick Dear’s theatrical adaptation of “Frankenstein,” which kicks off Zoetic Stage’s 10th season as part of the Arsht Center’s Theater Up Close series, taking place at the Carnival Studio Theater from Oct. 14-31.

Zoetic’s co-founder and artistic director Stuart Meltzer said he’d had the rights to the play for the last three years and felt his audience would greet it as warmly as they received Michael McKeever’s adaptation of “Dracula,” back in 2018.

“I had known about Nick Dear’s adaptation for several years,” Mr. Meltzer said of the 2011 Royal National Theatre production in the U.K., which starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, who alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. “When I read the play, I fell in love with the sparseness, the directness and the modernity of it. I knew we had to do it.”

Of course, COVID-19 delayed things for another year, he added.

“When we put our season together for 2021-2022, we went about things in a bit of a naïve way,” Mr. Meltzer said. “We thought, oh, everybody’s being vaccinated and I could hear little angels singing that we were out of the dark. That was before we were hit by the Delta variant. But we’ve always been 100 percent committed to getting back to producing live theatre and we’re doing it with this production.”

Employing striking images and poetic language, “Frankenstein” explores the very nature of good and evil, brought to life with both thrilling and heartbreaking results. From the Creature’s first moments on stage as he writhes out of an organic pod, the audience is swept into a whirlwind of emotional storytelling through imagery and movement. Through stylized staging comes a humane, insightful retelling of the original story, focusing on the plight of the Creature and his desperate journey to fit into a world that won’t accept him.

Mr. Meltzer confessed as a kid he never particularly appreciated the Frankenstein story.

“I didn’t read the book in high school,” he said, “and it wasn’t until directing this production that I actually found the essential sinew, the heartbeat, of why the story is told. It’s really about Man’s hubris and pride and his own desire to wear God’s shoes. It’s a tale that’s Greek in nature and is going to last forever and ever, because the journey that Victor Frankenstein makes shows his desire to make life, yet without any real divinity. In fact this story asks the question, ‘Who is the real monster?’”

The play also illustrates the depths to which we treat our fellow man, he added.

“It shows how we eat each other up,” Mr. Meltzer said. “How we become fearful of others that look a certain way. And how that fear generates hatred and violence. I connect to these themes, both as an artist and as a person who has opinions about how society operates. I’m aware of injustice, of how groups of people are oppressed. And I’m aware of my own place in all of that. So I feel this story really reaches everybody and in a very timely manner.”

He added this new version sticks close to Mary Shelley’s book, but in an abridged fashion.

“I do think there’s an homage in this play to the construct of Victor Frankenstein’s psyche,” Mr. Meltzer said. “And to the zeitgeist of that time; how science stacks up against the Bible or God-fearing people. The thing that’s really beautiful about ‘Frankenstein’ is it’s not a pulp story. It’s not decadent. It’s largely a father and son story. Victor Frankenstein is the creator and the Creature is his creation. There are some really human moments in it, with relationships to be identified. At one point near the end, the Creature says, ‘All I wanted was your love.’ That in a nutshell was my own relationship with my father. It’s both painful and hopeful. People can relate to that. That’s why I love the play so much. Through the pain, it offers a torch of hope.”

Mr. Meltzer hopes “Frankenstein” will provide his audiences a healthy escape from reality, leaving them with a lesson on how we must all regard one another.

“There’s a real impact when we mistreat others,” he said. “We all need to look at that.”

New World School of the Arts graduate and Miami native Gabriell Salgado, 24, plays the Creature and “Frankenstein” is his professional stage debut. He said his initial challenge was educating people that Frankenstein is the name of the Creature’s creator and not the name of the Creature itself.

“And everyone has such a specific idea of what the Creature is,” he said. “I try not to concern myself with that. Personally, the main challenge I’ve had with this role is finding an original approach to it. Nick Dear’s adaptation of this story is so original and so modern and so raw. It’s unlike any other adaptation of ‘Frankenstein.’ I’m really trying to find the realism in it. And that’s how Stuart Meltzer works as our director. So it’s not so much a spectacle, it’s how do I get to the meat and potatoes of it, simplify it and make it as real as possible. A man, not a monster or a creature, but a man, being brought to life and experiencing these things for the very first time.”

Mr. Salgado added the Creature is a very physical role.

“Learning how to talk and learning how to walk as this character is something I never considered before,” he said. “I did a lot of research with animals and babies. I studied the effects of brain trauma and recovering from surgery. I did a lot of research on the Creature’s physical world and I can tell you, my body is going through a lot of wear and tear right now. It’s so easy to go too far physically and it’s so easy to lose control and get injured.”

Echoing Mr. Meltzer, Mr. Salgado said his main goal in this role is to entertain and help the audience escape into the world of this play.

“I want people to come back to the theatre,” he said. “I want them to be excited. I want them to say, ‘Wow, I’ve missed this. I can’t wait to see another show.’ But with this specific show, my goal is to change people’s perspective of who and what the Creature is. I want them to think of him as the Man With No Name. And I want them to think of Victor Frankenstein as the monster. That’s the real question here. Who’s the real monster? And who’s the victim? I want to make him human. I want people to leave the theater thinking the Creature was more of a man, more of a lover, more of a feeler than the doctor. I want them to see the humanity in him and to relate to him. It’s a play about isolation and love and I want the audience to feel those things, to feel the realness of it.”

Along with Mr. Salgado, “Frankenstein” features Daniel Capote as Victor Frankenstein and a local cast including Lindsey Corey, Henry Gainza, Jeni Hacker, Imran Hylton, Ross Kaplan, Matthew W. Korinko, Alessandro J. Lopez, Nate Promkul, Donesha Rose, Barry Tarallo and Seth Trucks. The play’s creative team features scenic and properties design by Natalie Taveras and Jodi Dellaventura, lighting design by Rebecca Montero, costume design by Marina Pareja, makeup by Kelly Flores, sound design by Matt Corey and choral direction by Anthony Cabrera.

Please note: This production contains nudity and violence. The show will be performed without intermission. Tickets cost $50 and $55 and may be purchased at the Adrienne Arsht Center box office by calling 305-949-6722 or logging on to arshtcenter.org. 

The Arsht Center, located at 1300 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami, remains deeply committed to the health and peace of mind of guests, artists and staff. Based on guidance from national and local health officials, masks and proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test are required. Guests may volunteer proof of vaccination in lieu of a negative test. Learn more at www.arshtcenter.org/Visit/health-safety-covid-19. This event will be seated at full capacity. Enhanced cleaning, sanitation and air filtration procedures will be maintained. Any policy changes will be sent directly to ticket-holders and updated regularly at arshtcenter.org/covid-19.

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