A frantic doctor, fire in his eyes, rushes us into his dim laboratory. The scent of incense teases my nostrils, and electricity crackles in the air. A shrouded figure lies still on a table in the darkness. We huddle around it silently, watching, waiting. A sharp gasp of breath and the figure shudders and shakes, tensing its muscles and arching its back. The sinews in its arms strain beneath its skin. It’s… alive… Frankenstein
Zombie Joe’s Frankenstein is anything but a traditional retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. Instead of a “standard” proscenium show, it thrusts guests head-first into the story by keeping them on their feet – and sometimes on their toes with fright – as the actors weave in between or guide the audience through the space. Only once, and for a brief time, are guests able to sit and observe, detached from the proceedings. Emphasizing the horrors of the tale, the dialogue is sparse, taken from choice passages in the book and only to give context to the scenes that play out.
“You are my creator, but I am your master.”
– Frankenstein’s Monster
Like previous Zombie Joe productions, Frankenstein is a primal and physical performance; the story happens to the audience almost as much as it does to the cast. Frankenstein’s monsters – bloody, ragged and corpse-like – crawl out of the shadows, through the guests, and lead us through their pitiful journey of existence. Their movements are jerky, as if they are willing their dead flesh to fight through their rigor mortis. Cackling and urging us behind a black curtain, they reveal the sordid underbelly of society to us, which is littered with the worst of humanity, the unsavory (half-naked women covered in blood) and the grotesque (a creature angrily masturbating). The monsters appeal to our humanity in their struggles with abandonment, loneliness, and self-hatred. They seek companionship, but, in their confusion, brutally murder a woman in a beautiful and shocking dance sequence. Much like their father, Dr. Frankenstein, the audience is left to watch in horror and wonder as the macabre events play out.
Zombie Joe has created yet another moving production that holds audiences captive, brings them to the verge of insanity, and hopefully back out the other side. I left the theater sympathizing with the monsters as well as fearful of them. Will the creations ever find peace? Will I now that I know of their plight?