By James Foritano
BOSTON – “Monster” by Neal Bell, directed by Jim Petosa, is a full-bodied re-presentation of the enduring fable, first penned by Mary Shelly in 1818, of power run amok: Frankenstein. Lately, science has become so team and grant oriented that not many of us dream of brewing unique, not to say world-conquering, creations in our basement laboratories. Or maybe we do?
Certainly, celebrity status is still highly coveted in our 21st century psyches, and “monsters” do run amok in the pages of celebrity magazines and TV — Mary Shelly’s dream re-clothed as “American Idol.”
In any case, where better to view power running amok, or even just youthful energy, than the intimate venue of Studio #210 hosted by Boston University’s’s Boston Center for American Performance. Located at 264 Huntington Avenue, cheek-by-jowl with its much grander sister, The Huntington, Studio #210 provides an intimate box seat for every ticket holder.
You’re in the midst of the action as the play opens on the shifting ice, howling winds of the arctic, where Victor, played by Michael Kaye, is seeking his misbegotten “creature” played by John Zdrojeski. This hide-and-seek continues through less northern, but equally “cold” climates of English drawing rooms and curried London “forests.”
We, the audience, are complicit as the creature and its hunters scurry behind the screen of our seating, burst out of the narrow alleys between our voyeurs’ perches. A student cast literally reaching “for the stars” sharpens both the action and the acting. Student drama majors and graduate students are mixed with their professors/mentors in BCAP’s performances, mutually educating each other as they strive to project the mysteries of acting to their audience.
And speaking of “complicity…” I found playwright Bell’s take on the mysteries of good and evil, lust and moderation, nuanced and intriguing. The seductions of science and industry in Europe of the early 1800s were dramatically brought home to this viewer in the scene where it seemed that half the cast, gentlemen and ladies, were hanging onto a kite aloft in a sky booming with thunder and lightning. Bottled lightning, as you know, being essential to bringing both frog legs and monsters to life.
Victor might have been the nominal “leader” of this group but the instigator was all of society’s visions of transformation and transcendence. Schooled in biblical wonders, loosing their luster even before Darwin, everyone of that era was part amateur scientist or at the least, whole-heartedly in the cheering section.
Well, not everyone. In fact, only those with the leisure to dream and the means to do. As Cloteal Horne’s maid “Justine” laments in the midst of this frenetic seeking: “I’d be happy to do nothing.”
And while the infamous 1 percent is still envisaging and inspiriting new “monsters” the “Justine’s” and Justin’s of our times are still waiting for a break, a breath and a bite. At least in the jaundiced view of this amateur “socialist.”
And speaking of sex. Here, again, I’m no expert — and certainly not objective. So I’ll just say that sex two centuries ago was the same font of energy that Doctors Freud and Ruth so delighted in exposing — except different.
What’s the dish and what’s the spice seems to change places endlessly, entertainingly. And if sex in Victorian England seems to us moderns maddeningly displaced and disguised its permutations can still lurch or bend coyly into our sight with surprising, if delayed, impact.
(“Monster” continues through February 25 at Boston University Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210 at 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston. Call (617) 933-8600.