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Ambition Gone Too Far:

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Frankenstein is Dead

Guerilla Theatre
Brown Coat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace St. • (910) 341-0001
Thurs.-Sun., 10/12 – 24, 28 -31,
8 p.m. • Tickets: $10

Guerilla Theatre’s “Frankenstein is Dead” began its run at the Brown Coat Pub and Theatre on October 14th. Written by UNCW graduate Justin Cioppa, the play is an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic, with a little twist in the plot and a dash of alternative character development.

The back-story’s the same: Victor Frankenstein has created a monster. It’s alive. It’s hideous. Repulsed by his conception, he refuses the creature an identity, often referring to it as “it” and “wretch.” Through his eyes, it’s an abhorred devil, so he abandons it.

In Shelley’s narrative the monster seeks revenge and attention by murdering those close to Frankenstein, eventually killing its creator’s newly wedded wife. Grief-stricken, Frankenstein vows to pursue his monster until one of them is dead, chasing it all the way to the North Pole. But in Cioppa’s world, Frankenstein, played by Brown Coat veteran Chase Harrison, flees Europe with his wife, Elisabeth (Amber Davis). He desperately tries to break away from the devastation that arose with his galvanized giant. Booking passage to the New World, they sail for a new life. Edging the Atlantic, Frankenstein is nearly overcome at the finish line, as a hurricane leaves him shipwrecked and alone on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The scientist is taken in by some island inhabitants, who soon learn all too well of Frankenstein’s past.

Under the direction of Nick Smith, who also performs as Frankenstein’s mentor Waldmen, the play is grave from start to finish, coated with an overall apprehensiveness. Attempts at comic relief come through with a few one-liners delivered by Agatha (Amanda Young), the feisty town nurse whose doctor-husband ran off with a bow-legged mistress. Yet, most of them fall short due to the ominous tension of each scene. Outside, on the Outer Banks’ shores, the wind is always blowing uncontrollably, and the clangs and moans of the monster are never far off.

“Frankenstein is Dead” is constructed on counter narratives, flashing back and forth between an Outer Banks cabin and the laboratory that birthed the creature. Cioppa’s play explores the desolate effects of following ambition too far, until one has distorted into a monster that cannot be related to. Harrison convincingly evokes this transformation in his portrayal of Victor Frankenstein. He greets the audience as a man of innocence, a determined man in search of knowledge in hope that he can better mankind. His resolution is so strong, that he often must argue the significance of his time to his bride-to-be.

“We have this tiny window,” an occupied Frankenstein says to a smitten Elisabeth, “a small period of time where our brains, our bodies, our entire being is working at the height of its capacity, where possibility is genuinely limitless, where there is nothing that we cannot do. Then, one day, without ever seeing it, that window closes. Ambition concedes to comfort. We don’t do what we can; we do what is expected of us, and nothing more. We just whither away and we die. But our hearts don’t stop beating for another 30 years.”

As events unfold, however, Frankenstein is presented as a mad scientist with too much power and the wrong priorities. He is a god.

The most prominent flaw with the overall work is that it’s hard to tell what Cioppa’s purpose in writing it was. His story doesn’t express much of anything that Shelley’s hasn’t already said. The endings and settings are entirely different, but it’s all the same content. The same themes are there. Frankenstein’s monster—the sewn-together corpses of a dozen criminals—still longs for companionship and acceptance. And Frankenstein remains plagued with his mistakes, disdained with a missed opportunity to seize life, all caused by imbuing it through the inanimate.

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