(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)
Dark and funny: It’s not a typical combination, but it best describes Trouble Puppet Theater Company’s rendition of “Frankenstein,” which plays at the Salvage Vanguard Theater through Nov. 22.
The creepy story, which chronicles scientist Victor Frankenstein’s attempts to make “life out of inanimate matter,” is told wonderfully through the use of puppets, each manned by two to three performers. Because of the puppet scale, when Frankenstein’s green-eyed monster finally awakens, he looks larger than life next to the human-portraying puppets. Mood lighting (by Stephen Pruitt) and sound design (by K. Eliot Haynes) give the set (by Trouble Puppet artistic director Connor Hopkins) a dank, dungeon-y flavor appropriate to the story.
When the story commences, Frankenstein has been kicked out of university as a result of exhausting the school’s resources while pursuing his crazy experiment — he’s made use of every limb of every cadaver available, leaving “not one testicle” behind for anyone else.
He then joins the lab of Dr. Pretorius, and makes grave robbers of two dim-witted (but hilarious) henchmen who pillage cemeteries for brains. Frankenstein’s botanist wife, Elizabeth, is also in on the experiment, pushing Frankenstein to keep at it until he achieves his goal. “This is the 18th century, after all,” Elizabeth remarks, much to our amusement.
Comical scene summaries are projected on a screen between sections. “Era inappropriate technology is used, but not adequately explained,” reads a slide before the monster is born. “Heads of state are encountered. Other heads roll,” reads another before the Frankensteins flee their home for Revolution-era Paris.
It’s not long before Frankenstein’s creation is asking him to create another — a monster mate. He gives Frankenstein until the birth of his child to produce a she-monster. As you may imagine, things get down to the wire. Elizabeth is giving birth, with the assistance of one of the henchmen (“You’re a grave robber for god sakes, get in there!” she yells), just as Frankenstein is putting the final touches on his second creation. His plan is to use the she-monster as electrical bait to kill his first creation, once and for all.
While the monster ends up dead, Frankenstein’s body ends up being pulled apart in the process, literally. But he lives on, thanks to his botanist wife — the final image of the production is of his head, detached from his body and re-attached to a plant.
It’s a darkly funny world.
“Frankenstein: The Trouble Puppet Show” continues through Nov. 22. www.troublepuppet.com