A little imagination helps to create a wild adventure story in Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of “Frankenstein.”
A small bedroom and the sound of wood rocking in the water is all you need to realize the opening scene is on a ship. A few lit-up boxes, strobe lights, and the sound of crackling electricity transforms the mostly open space into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, where he gives life to a Creature built from parts of several dead bodies.
Donna Buckalter’s scenic design, the lighting by David Castaneda and Dorian Boyd’s sound effects provide the perfect backdrop to this often intense, slightly melodramatic version of Mary Shelley’s monster story, reviewed at the final preview performance.
The tale has been told in many ways since the novel was published nearly 200 years ago, but this new adaptation by Bo List, the inventive direction by Kelly Wynn Woodland, and a few compelling performances make it almost fresh and surprising.
List follows the framework of the novel, with Victor Frankenstein telling a ship’s captain his sad tale of how he became obsessed with the idea of extending life after the death of his mother. When his experiments finally lead to a life he created, Frankenstein is horrified by what he sees and leaves his creation for dead.
But the Creature survives, and learns to speak and read with the help of a kindly blind man, who can’t see his face. The Creature learns about good and evil and wants revenge on the man who created him. Unless Frankenstein creates a female companion, the Creature will destroy everything and everyone close to the doctor.
It’s a compelling story, made more so by the relationship between Jeremy Guerrero as Frankenstein and Steve O’Dea as the Creature. Guerrero performs with an intensity that never becomes overwrought. Even in the most melodramatic circumstances, he creates a sense of reality and believability.
As the monster, O’Dea wears a large red shirt, and has some scars and tangles of hair on his scalp. But his innate human nature and a sense of kindness make you feel for him. He’s only angry the way anyone would feel after a rejection. Frankenstein turned against him because of his looks and didn’t take the time to nurture his “child.”
As the blind man DeLacey, Herbert Stump displays the friendly strength that should be inspiring. Jose Cruz provides sturdy support as Victor’s best friend, Henry. Rick Kopp has an appropriate formality as one of Victor’s professors.
Alison Prouty fits the blushing, breathless image of Victor’s fiancee, Elizabeth, who worries about him coming back to her after his studies. Carson Rudolph is effective as Victor’s young brother, William.
Vera Samuels, who has been impressive in some musical productions, draws you into her role as William’s nanny. When Justine faces severe legal trouble, Samuels lets the character’s raw emotions pour out of her.
Becky Evans’s costumes suit the period and the performers and work well with the other design elements to grab your attention. It may not scare the pants off you, but you should feel involved.
By Bo List. Directed by Kelly Wynn Woodland. Reviewed Oct. 9, Venice Theatre Stage II, 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice. Through Oct. 27. Tickets are $25-$28, $10-$15 for students. 488-1115; venicestage.com