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Theatre Review: B Street Breathes New Life Into 'Frankenstein'

B Street Theatre / courtesy

B Street Theatre / courtesy

Gothic tales are intended to give you a shiver. I saw this show with a class of sixth-graders, and when the play began, amidst gloomy music and gathering darkness, one kid responded to the deliciously creepy atmosphere by letting out a whoop.

The story picks up on a dark and stormy night, amidst a gathering of the greatest English poets of the day. Young Mary Shelley suggests they have a contest to see who can tell the best ghost story.

Mary: And what do we win, if we tell the best ghost story?

Byron: And what do you win?

Mary: Yes.

Byron: Why Mary – Immortality, of course. The best stories are immortal.

Mary: Immortality, that is a worthy goal.

Byron: My lady, it is the only goal.

It is a measure of what Mary Shelley has achieved that almost everyone today knows the basic outline of the tale she created -- about a renegade medical researcher who reanimates a dead body. The creature he brings to life is unnaturally strong, remarkably cagey, and rather demanding. Very soon, the tables are turned.

Creature: You are my creator, but I am your master – Obey!

Victor: No, I will not! I will not add one abomination to another!

“You are my creator, but I am your master.” This ultimatum, penned by the teenage Mary Shelley, foretells our discussions today about artificial intelligence and genetic engineering. “Frankenstein” may be a Gothic thriller from a bygone age, and yet she made an absolutely brilliant call, 200 years ago.

But getting back to the production at hand... this well-crafted B Street adaptation is a beautiful paradox. It’s concise – 75 minutes long, just five actor -- and it’s a rattling-good yarn for 10- to 12-year-olds. But college-educated adults will also enjoy this far-sighted, cosmic tale with all its moral underpinnings, even if they just came along for the ride. Sometimes special gifts come in small packages, and the B Street’s “Frankenstein” – one of their better shows in recent years -- is a little jewel.

The B Street Family Series production of “Frankenstein” continues through March 20th.

Related stories from NPR:

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