‘Frankenstein’ seen in Marquette

Noah Hausmann

Fog machines, fancy threads and funky beats set the scene of “Frankenstein,” the latest classic stage drama from the Upper Peninsula Shakespeare Festival company, performing on Sunday and Wednesday nights in the upper room at the Ore Dock Brewing Co. The drama is an original adaptation of the 1818 Gothic horror novel by Mary Shelley.

re-frankenstein-use-thisThis is the first production by the company that is not one of Shakespeare’s plays. Executive Director of the Festival Alastar Dimitrie did much of the script work, adapting the story for the stage to follow closely to the book.

“Frankenstein not only has heightened language like Shakespeare, it explores universal themes,” Dimitrie said. “It’s about life itself, the will to live and what it means to be alive. In that way it’s really sweeping, but it has these wonderful human moments in it too. So it’s quite a bit like Shakespeare in that sense.”

Dimitrie also delivers a stirring performance as The Creature, Victor Frankenstein’s reanimated cadaver collage, at once eerie and eloquent, evoking empathy as he begins as innocent as a newborn and is corrupted by the cruelty of his fellow mankind, those who see him only as a “monster.”

Jamie Weeder, director of the play and co-founder of the non-profit Shakespeare company along with Dimitrie, described why the Ore Dock pub is an ideal venue for their close-up theatre performance.

“It’s incredibly moving to see these words spoken, see an actor sweat or have an actor regard you,” she said. “It’s a lot different than being far away.”

It’s no coincidence they chose “Frankenstein” to debut in October.

“It’s a spooky, eerie play during a spooky, eerie time of year. Our goal was always to be a classical theatre group, meaning we don’t do just Shakespeare. We could do Chekhov or Mary Shelley. We got excited about adapting it and creating our own personalized version of this, so it’s completely customized to our talent and to our space and to the U.P. in a not tacky way at all,” Weeder said, chuckling.

They started adapting “Frankenstein” soon after they finished “Macbeth” last October, but they only began rehearsal about three weeks before their premiere Sunday, Oct. 16.

They were allowed only one technical rehearsal in the space at the Ore Dock because it is a busy venue. Thus, before every show they bring in the stage, their own lights, sound equipment and other parts of the set with which they transform the atmosphere of the pub into a fog machine-filled phantasmagoria.

“It’s going to be unrecognizable in there,” Weeder said.

Weeder, who also runs the sound board, described her music selection as “hip,” to match the other modern elements they interject into the Gothic tale with its 1800’s speech and period clothing.

“We’re trying to go after a feeling, not accuracy,” Weeder explained. “It’s threading the needle between honoring the text and also making it accessible, modernizing it. Our delivery and performance is not Gothic. We’re talking to each other. We care about relationships and telling the story, which strips all of the vanity away.”

The actors are mainly community members, although this production does include one Northern student, Melissa Neal, a sophomore bachelor of the arts major.

“It remains true to its classical side. It is beautifully spoken despite being clearly said,” Neal added on the drama’s language.

This is her second play with the theatre troupe. She also played Miranda in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the company’s first production back in 2015. Now Neal plays dual roles as The Creature’s Bride and also as Victor Frankenstein’s kid brother, William.

The performance also has tons of morbid humor, with jokes on grave robbing for example and plenty of winks at the audience.

“Our timing is a bit different than it was at the time when this was originally writ, so it’s finding these moments to create this improv, bar prov, sick, Dexter-twisted, honest story,” Weeder said. “There is tragedy, but there’s also comedy in there.”

Neal chimed, “I hope you like death as much as I do.”

The U.P. Shakespeare Festival company is nonprofit, with ticket sales only going to pay for expenses and to compensate the actors.

“We’re storytellers, entertainers,” Weeder said. “We like to bring people together, make them think and show them something they’ve never seen before.”

Tickets cost $13 for seniors and NMU students, $15 for general admission. Seating is limited, so people should buy tickets in advance from their website upshakes.org to guarantee a seat. They perform Oct. 19, Oct. 23, Oct. 26 and Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ore Dock, 114 W. Spring St, Marquette.

One last thing: A little voluntary audience participation is to be expected but is nothing to be afraid of.