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Cardinal Stage Company Brings a Powerful, Contemporary Adaptation of Frankenstein’s Creature to Life by Benjamin Beane

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In Nick Dear's adaptation of 'Frankenstein,' actor Christopher Ellis brings a more existential rendering of Mary Shelley's Creature to life at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater October 27 - November 5. | Photo by Mallory Smith

In Nick Dear’s adaptation of ‘Frankenstein,’ actor Christopher Ellis brings a more existential rendering of Mary Shelley’s Creature to life at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater October 27 – November 5. | Photo by Mallory Smith

“It lives!”

Getting into the Halloween spirit, Cardinal Stage Company will revive its Mainstage Season with a modern adaptation of one of the most famous monster tales in history, Frankenstein, which runs October 27th through November 5th at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

This adaptation by Nick Dear, which opened to critical success in 2011 at the Royal National Theatre in London, offers a much closer look at the Creature’s humanity, beginning with his birth.

Dear’s narrative expands on the Creature’s experience of sentience, and why he inevitably turns into the classic “monster” we all know from Mary Shelley’s original. New Year’s Day 2018 will mark the 200th anniversary of Shelley’s classic. Cardinal Stage compiled a student companion that tracks Shelley’s creation through time that can be found here.

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Shelley's 'Frankenstein' is about to turn 200! Cardinal Stage's Student Companion traces its historical trajectory and cultural appropriation.

Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is about to turn 200! Cardinal Stage’s Student Companion traces its historical trajectory and cultural appropriation.

Randy White, founder and former artistic director of Cardinal Stage, returns as guest director for this show. White was the heart and soul of the company for the last ten years and has directed some of its most popular shows, such as The Sound of Music, The Grapes of Wrath, and, most recently, A Year with Frog and Toad.

“It’s wonderful to be back!” White says. “Cardinal Stage was such an intense focus for me for over a decade, and getting back to Cardinal and Bloomington for this show feels like returning home.” Cardinal Stage’s new artistic director, Kate Galvin, will join the company November 6th.

Frankenstein will be produced in partnership with Indiana University’s Themester 2017 on Diversity, Difference, and Otherness. Cardinal Stage has partnered with IU for all ten of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Themesters. This year’s theme examines societal constructs and the classification of difference, a theme seemingly made for Dear’s character study of the Creature.

Actor Christopher Ellis joins Cardinal Stage as the Creature.

Actor Christopher Ellis joins Cardinal Stage as the Creature.

Shelley’s original text is read as a reaction to the Enlightenment’s assumption that reason and science are inherently good, and it shows what can happen when science is taken too far. However, Dear’s adaptation, as White puts it, “focuses on Frankenstein’s ‘hideous’ Creature as the offspring of the Age of Reason — the lost child of scientific hubris who seeks a better, simpler, more humane world…. This focus on the Creature as Other is what gives Dear’s adaptation such power.”

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In this narrative twist, the Creature interrogates his creator, Victor Frankenstein, and demands an explanation for Frankenstein’s motives. This additional nuance to one of the earliest works of science fiction lends a layer of moral ambiguity to two characters who have been represented in many different variations over the past two centuries. White has his own stance.

“I think they are both monsters. And they are both heroes. I mean, aren’t we all?”

Will Allan makes his Cardinal Stage debut as Victor Frankenstein.

Will Allan makes his Cardinal Stage debut as Victor Frankenstein.

Performing the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature are Cardinal Stage newcomers Will Allan and Christopher Ellis. Allan, a Chicago native, has performed in a number of plays, including Circumference of a Squirrel at the Greenhouse Theater, which earned him a nomination for a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Performance of a Solo Play. Ellis is a television veteran, having appeared on network shows such as Chicago Fire and Empire, as well as the upcoming Netflix series The Punisher. Coincidentally, both actors have studied at the Moscow Art Theater School in Russia.

In addition to White, another Cardinal Stage veteran involved in the production is Mike Price, who will be in charge of sound design. Price may be better recognized as an actor who performed in Of Mice and Men and Oliver!. But the former associate artistic director is a jack of all trades, assisting in things such as choreography, sound, projection design and props, photography, and website and technical issues. White says Price’s sound design on Frankenstein alone “is worth checking out.”

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With a new and provocative spin on an archetypal story, along with a top-bill cast and contributions from Cardinal Stage legends White and Price, Frankenstein is kicking off Cardinal Stage’s 11th season in invigorating style — and just in time for everyone’s favorite horror-filled holiday.

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