Original CSUF play adaptation breathes new life into ‘Frankenstein’

Stitched together from body parts, Victor Frankenstein’s horrifying, iconic creature will animate out of electricity into the living dead for audiences at the Young Theatre at Cal State Fullerton starting on Sept. 29. The production asks profound questions about what it means to be human, exploring both desire and betrayal.

“You know when you listen to music and you get that goosebump feeling in your skin and your brain feels like it’s expanding and there’s electricity running through the bottom of your feet and your fingertips? Every time I pull that lever, that happens,” said third-year theater student Anthony Ayala about animating the Creature on stage as mad scientist Doctor Victor Frankenstein.

Ayala has been a fan of horror genre books since he was a kid, citing “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” being among his favorites. From Ayala’s point of view as Dr. Frankenstein, the play is about ambition and his attempt to cheat mortality.

For the Creature, played by Casey Bowen, however, he is discovering the world for the first time and learning about humanity after being betrayed by his creator. Bowen describes his character as curious and yearning for love as he tries to resist the tragic circumstances he’s in, but starts to become the monster he’s viewed as.

Bowen said that his makeup is not going to be green in this adaptation and the transformation of the Creature is shown through collecting clothes as he collects life experiences. Bowen went through several iterations of how to bring the Creature’s metamorphosis to life, including how to pick up language by imitating vowel sounds a baby would use.

“This is one role that I knew that I wanted from the moment that I found out we were doing the show,” Bowen said. “(The Creature) is just like a person but we still experience him learning how to talk, learning what the world is, learning love and getting betrayed.”

The cast and crew of “Frankenstein” are currently fine-tuning the props, performances and stage directions in preparation for dress rehearsals starting Thursday. Vintage furniture and costumes slipped in and out of the performance room as actors rotated between rehearsing lines and going through notes from director Maria Cominis.

“(Cominis) is so passionate about the work and the passion is infectious. Whenever she is giving notes or fixing a scene, she’s right up there with you,” Ayala said. “It definitely ignited this power within me that I didn’t know was there.”

Bruce Goodrich, who recently retired from CSUF faculty, wrote the original adaptation of the classic novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley for this production. Goodrich and Cominis wanted to take this unique opportunity to implement Mary Shelley, the author of the original novel, into the script as a character.

“No one has really brought (Shelley) into the forefront,” Cominis said. “Her personal story is really woven into the fabric of ‘Frankenstein’ if you look closely at the novel, and that interested me in this world where women are still fighting for equal rights and to be heard.”

Shelley published “Frankenstein” as a teenager in 1818, and it was considered ahead of its time as it was the first narrative to incorporate scientific technology. She was met with disbelief in a world of men who disputed her talents because of her gender.

Second-year theater major Olivia Kridle plays Mary Shelley in “Frankenstein” in her first CSUF production. Shelley isn’t a main character in the play, but the addition of her character brings a parallel between her and her story and sheds a light on her tragic life.

“She sees a lot of herself in the Creature which I think is why she wrote it,” Kridle said. “To give voice to someone who’s already given so many words to other people is a very important thing and lovely to do.”

Cominis is especially excited for audiences to come into the theatre with preconceptions from the many iterations of the story, whether it be from “Young Frankenstein” or the old Hollywood Boris Karloff horror film or fans of Shelley’s novel and see the original story uniquely come to life through their original play adaptation.

“I feel like if I was my little child-self, growing up with those horror movies and in the audience, I would be really thrilled watching it. And then to be in it and tell the story is so amazing, and I’m so grateful that I get the opportunity to do this,” Ayala said.

“Frankenstein” will run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 15 at the Young Theatre at the Clayes Performing Arts Center. General admission tickets are $14 and $12 for students.