Playing with Fire (After Frankenstein)
Not your green, lumbering bolts-in-the-neck monster tale, Playing with Fire is more aligned with recent popular intertwinings of science fiction and human relationships, from Twilight to Lost. It’s a combination that Boho Theatre plays to ideal effect, using the intimacy of the Kleenex box–size Heartland Studio to craft a compact and excellent retelling of Shelley’s iconic Gothic novel.
Field’s play disposes of the book’s flowery letter-exchange framework and fast-forwards to the end of the story. Forever nemeses, Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the unnamed, gruesome creature he has formed from body parts and a spark of electricity have chased each other to the literal end of the earth, now facing off in a self-described ritual of revenge. The arrogant scientist’s obsessive curiosity is re-ignited when he discovers that his creation is endowed with something the single-minded Frankenstein had not expected: humanity. What got them here unfolds in a series of crisply acted, just long-enough flashbacks; Clayton Stamper as the young Victor and Laura Rook as his betrothed, Elizabeth, give especially notable turns.
Despite the high stakes, the creator-creature showdown would benefit from some of the nicely calibrated subtlety of the scenes from the characters’ past. Still, Sullivan’s staging on the whole captivatingly plumbs down to the story’s emotional and intellectual core. The show’s heart belongs to Cox’s monster: Though the character’s cobbled together from cadavers, the actor locates what’s exquisite in the grimy, gravel-voiced, timeless creation.