More Grisly Gusto, Please

This wrong-headed adaptation of Frankensteinby Brian Newell and Martin E. Williams pitches Mary Shelley's philosophical and religious musings into the toilet, trading them for melodramatic shock tactics like rape, hanging, baby killing, severed limbs and evisceration. Not that I'm against any of those things onstage. A handful of shiny intestines and an arterial gusher often produce in me paroxysms of joy, but if a company does this kind of material, it has to attack with grisly gusto. The proceedings in The Frankenstein Diaries are only moderately creepy, mostly bloodless and rarely as competent as they should be. Worst of all, they're not a bit scary.

Director Jim Book is usually a whiz at handling a production's technical aspects, but aside from a few lighting effects—during the Creature's "birth" and its solitary night travels through a forest—there's little creative evidence on display. As Frankenstein's light designer, set designer, producer, director and program designer, maybe he's just stretched too thin to be effective in any capacity but the last.

Save for a couple of thankless performances by Valerie Law as Elizabeth and Steven Schrock as the Creature, the acting is also far too subdued to sell what little bloodshed there is. Derek Crabbe's one-note Victor Frankenstein—a character potentially rich in pride, delusion, grief and fear—is strictly community theater.

A final note: playwright/sound designer Newell's taste in music is impeccable, but his constant underscoring is intrusive, telling us how we're supposed to feel instead of letting the cast do its job. Somebody needs to tell him he wrote a play, not a movie.

The Frankenstein Diaries at the Chance Theater, 5576 E. LaPalma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-3033. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. Through Nov. 14. $13-$15; students, $10.

 
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