REVIEW: "Playing With Fire (After Frankenstein)" — Golden West College Performing Arts

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

"I Ought to be Thy Adam, But I am Rather the Fallen Angel..."

At the North Pole, gun in hand, an angry creator confronts his anguished creation. Is this a metaphor for God and man? Well, Yesand No.

"Why," the Creature asks Frankenstein, who has tracked him to the Arctic wilderness to kill him for the slaying of his wife and brother, "did you make me?"

The two figures are actually the grizzled Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the monster he created long ago, grappling with their personal pasts and with questions about the relationship between God and man, and the consequences that attend creation.

Years have passed, and it is at this frozen sea at the literal and metaphorical top of the earth’s axis that the play begins, where Frankenstein has finally caught up with his monstrous creation. Behind them hangs a coolly shining globe of Promethean light, which later turns red-hot in scenes depicting the making of monsters.

Both men are well-spoken, articulate, and torn up by rage, despair, and exhaustion; neither looks especially grotesque, though neither looks normal, either. The ambiguity is deliberate and effective, for as their debate unfolds we realize that each is the other's doppelganger, codependent, and tormentor. The Creature, strongly played by Paul Jasser, invites Frankenstein to kill him, rather than continue a life of loveless solitude.

Frankenstein affirms his murderous intention, but can never bring himself to act on it. Instead he quizzes the Creature about his life, for the purposes of scientific observation. In flashback, the men recount Shelley's story, pared to its essentials, with most supporting characters removed and its key themes highlighted by ironic commentary. When Frankenstein reminds the Creature of his unfulfilled vow, "Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous," the Creature sneers: "I was bargaining at the time."

Their reminiscence is cinematically intercut with scenes featuring their younger selves as well as Frankenstein's beloved stepsister/fiancee Elizabeth, who explores the tension between the character's penny-dreadful heroine exterior and her underlying frustration with her limited options, and Frankenstein's teacher, Professor Krempe, bearing nicely barbed humor in contrast to Frankenstein's obsessive seriousness.

The vehicle for this grisly excursion into literature, philosophy and theology is Barbara Field’s 1989“Playing With Fire (After Frankenstein)," a well-acted chiller directed by Tom Amen, offering much thought on the nature of man and the danger of unbridled science, and now playing for only one more weekend at the Golden West College Performing Arts Mainstage Theatre.

As the narrative flashes back and forth between the confrontation at the North Pole and the story of young Victor's loss of his mother, we see his cold scientific approach to life, along with his romance with his cousin Elizabeth, his schooling with the elderly Professor Krempke and the creation of Adam, the Creature.

But forget the usual grunting behemoth with malice on his mind. This middle-ager is well read, thinking in complicated terms (he refers to the “sanctimonious platitudes of mankind”) and feels ever so deeply. He describes prayer as “a kind of ecstasy.” In his discontent, the Creature mainly wants to know the whys of his existence. He also wants love.