This creature speaks

In most versions of “Frankenstein,” the monster is nearly mute, expressing himself only in a series of inarticulate grunts and cries.

In Trevor Allen’s version, the monster speaks.

With “The Creature,” the San Francisco-based playwright offers a new take on a familiar tale. Just in time for Halloween, the play makes its world premiere Friday in a Black Box Theatre production.

Written by Allen and directed by Rob Melrose, the play features veteran Bay Area actor James Carpenter in the title role.

Like a lot of horror fans, Allen has seen all the “Frankenstein” films, from the 1931 James Whale classic to Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.” 

But he says he never got the full impact until, as a UCLA undergraduate, he read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” The 1818 novel was a revelation.

“It really took me by surprise,” says Allen. “The chapters in the middle of the novel are told from the Creature’s point of view. It was amazing to me, hearing this side of the story I hadn’t seen in the films.”

“The Creature,” which “samples” text from Shelley’s novel, takes place on an icebound ship in the Arctic and employs the voices of three narrators — Victor Frankenstein, the Creature and the ship’s Captain Walton — in a mercurial, interwoven style.

Hearing the Creature speak gives the audience a unique point of view, says Allen.

“In the novel, the Creature speaks for himself, and he’s quite eloquent. He’s an orphan. He isn’t evil to begin with, and he feels remorse: He doesn’t want to be what he becomes.”

Allen says he couldn’t have asked for a better actor than Carpenter in the Creature role.

“Jim is outstanding,” says the playwright. “He really brings out the humanity in the character. He has a lot of empathy for this tragic creation, and that’s what makes it all work.”

The issues raised in the Frankenstein myth are still timely, he adds; since Shelley’s era, science fiction has become science fact. “We talked about these issues — genetic engineering, cloning, extending life — the ethics of what we can do versus what we should do,” he says. “We felt we didn’t have to gild the lily in any way. These things resonate on their own.”

Allen originally conceived “The Creature” in the style of a 1940s radio play, and it was first done that way, in 2006 and 2007 podcasts. 

The new production, which also features Gabriel Marin as Victor and Garth Petal as Capt. Walton, is fully staged with sets, lighting, costumes and sound. But Allen says it retains some of its original spirit.

“We wanted to capture the horror of the story, but not with green makeup and neck bolts,” he says.  “It’s done with simplicity, as a truly human story.”

IF YOU GO

The Creature

Presented by Black Box Theatre

Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco
When: Opens Friday; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sunday; closes Nov. 7
Tickets: $20 to $30
Contact: (415) 401-8081; www.thickhouse.org

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