BRATTLEBORO—Everyone’s favorite monster is coming to Brattleboro this Halloween season.
For its annual Halloween Spectacular at the Hooker-Dunham Theater in downtown Brattleboro beginning Oct. 18, Shoot the Moon Theater Company will present Frankenstein.
But which Frankenstein?
As aficionados (and who isn’t) know, there are many versions of this classic of horror.
Originally, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was written by Mary Shelley on a bet among literary friends about who could come up with the scariest story.
The group was quite illustrious since it included two great romantic poets: Mary’s lover and future husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. Yet even with such stiff competition, Mary won, and her story has become a classic of horror, told and retold many times including on stage, in cinema, and on television.
But the versions often vary so much from each other that a single Dr. Frankenstein — or his “monster” — is hardly recognizable. For instance, there is the most basic question: Which is the monster, the creator or the creation?
Shoot the Moon creative director Joshua Moyse says even though his primary source for his own stage adaptation is the iconic 1931 film directed by James Whale and starring (and making a star of) Boris Karloff, audience members will recognize elements from Mary Shelley’s novel and other versions of the classic tale about the scientist and his monstrous creation.
Moyse acknowledges that there are dozens of versions of the story.
“You could say I have ’Frankensteined’ Frankenstein using all these allusions and homages together with some original scenes,” Moyse explains. “Much like in the book itself, we stitched together unholy parts to create a monster.”
‘Everyone plays a cat’
Company members portray multiple characters in the show, but the principal roles are Dr. Frankenstein (Sean Fitzharris), the Creature (Josh Goldstein), Elizabeth (Jennifer Moyse), Igor (Elias Burgess), Henry (Colin Grube), and Dr. Waldman (Jon Mack). Alistair Follansbee also returns as Shoot The Moon’s Stage Manager.
“Although there are only six actors in the show, all play double roles — and everyone plays a cat,” Moyse says. This feline touch is just another unexpected theatrical conceit of the sort that regularly happens in Shoot the Moon productions. Says Moyse: “Theatricality is our calling card.”
Having tackled for Halloween Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde in past years, Frankenstein “was the obvious choice for us to next present,” Moyse says.
Unlike some of the other Shoot the Moon’s Halloween shows, Frankenstein will be an elaborate production. “Last year we presented Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, which was simple to stage since it all took place in a radio studio,” Moyse says. “The scope of Frankenstein is much larger. We are able to tackle a bigger productiion because we now have the time to devote to this show.”
Moyse not only wrote the original script for this Frankenstein, he also directed the production and designed the sets.
In writing the show, Moyse examined the influences that inspired the 1818 novel, such as poems by Byron and Charles Lamb, and Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Themes explored in this production are further fleshed out with a set design inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man drawing as well as Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, while the creature’s make-up is modeled after Francis Bacon’s The Life Mask of William Blake portrait.
Does this all lead to horror?
“To be blunt, Frankenstein is not frightening to modern audiences,” Moyse concedes.
Twisting the tale
With familiar movies like Young Frankenstein and The Rocky Horror Picture Show having had a field day mocking the original tale, Moyse senses that we can no longer serve our Frankenstein straight.
“Audiences are ready to giggle when the monster appears onstage,” he says.
Rather than fight the urge for an audience to laugh at this material, Moyse wants to highlight the “campy” elements of the story. Much like Shoot the Moon’s previous Halloween production, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, last year, this production will have a mixture of tones.
“We want to be playful with the work,” Moyse says. “Some parts will be a campy sendup of the material. But, at the same time, we want the play to be a thrilling and horrifying entertainment.”
While Shoot the Moon’s previous Halloween shows have never shied away from the campier aspects of horror classics, Moyse says the company really wanted to play up the melodrama for this version.
“We played up the campy melodramatic elements in Dracula a little bit, but we are going much further in this Frankenstein,” Moyse says. “That includes molding brains out of peach gelatin and spattering fake blood in a manner that may not be suitable for a younger audience.”
At the same time, he hopes to also have moments when the show is genuinely frightening.
“The production is very funny, but combined with terror,” Moyse explains. “To create fear in a theatrical performance is tricky, and to be truthful we have had varying degrees of success with it in the past. The easiest is perhaps the jump scare. Yet the Hooker-Dunham Theater is a dark cavernous space that lends itself to an audience being frightened.”
In the end, Moyse characterizes this version of the story as a campy, funny show with discrete scary interludes. “Frankly, I am curious to see how the comedy/terror combination comes off in the theater,” Moyse confesses.
The perfect stage
Hooker-Dunham Theater remains the home of Shoot the Moon. “The theater means the world to us,” Moyse says. “Although there are other fine venues in the area, Hooker-Dunham is just about perfect for what we do.”
Moyse says Jon Mack, a Shoot the Moon regular who runs Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery, has made big improvements since the company began performing there.
“He has added a sophisticated lighting system, a sound board, and has doubled the size of the stage, which gives us so much more room for playing,” Moyse says.
Shoot the Moon’s Frankenstein will run for three weekends until early November.
“We are giving only six shows, but over a longer period of time than a lot of local theater companies allow,” Moyse explains. “We do it for several reasons. One is to let the actors grow with the work.”
Then there’s the buzz.
“The second [reason] is that being in town this long allows word-of-mouth to spread,” says Moyse, who hopes friends will tell friends about a delightful show at Hooker-Dunham this Halloween season.
Moyse contends that it is getting easier and easier to direct his company.
“The cast has now been together for the four years since Shoot the Moon was created, and we are really enjoying working with each other. It’s amazing how much faster we can achieve things than in the past. When I started the company I told my members that I intended to stick with them and successfully grow as a team, and we have.
“I have no illusion about the importance of our company. I know the size of our community. We will never have 10,000 people coming to our performances. But we do have a devoted audience, and perhaps more importantly, a younger audience than many of the theater companies in the area.”