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On Theater: A battle of wits in ‘Frankenstein’ at Vanguard

On Theater: A battle of wits in ‘Frankenstein’ at Vanguard
Isaac Yescas, Zach Guevin (Lord Byron), and Pierre Ekladios (Victor Frankenstein) underestimate the creature (Ethan Boyle) in “Frankenstein,” which plays at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa through Nov. 11. (Photo by Celeste Filadelfia)

The haunting specter of Frankenstein’s monster has chilled audiences over the past eight decades, and movie directors ranging from James Whale to Mel Brooks have taken on the legend from various angles.

In the current production at Vanguard University, another director, Susan K. Berkompas, stages Bruce Goodrich’s adaptation of the early 1800s story by 19-year-old Mary Shelley, future wife of the famed poet Percy.

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Shelley herself is a character in Goodrich’s version as she, Percy and Lord Byron devise a writing competition to produce the scariest horror story. Her wild tale about the reanimation of dead human tissue clearly carried the day.

In Shelley's account, Frankenstein’s monster (or “creature,” as it's billed here) takes little time to develop the power of speech and soon is portrayed as a literate intellectual on a quest for life’s meaning. It does, however, leave a few corpses in its wake.

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Vanguard’s version of the creature quickly becomes the focus of the production. It’s portrayed with fearsome gusto by Ethan Boyle, who rages around the audience like a ravenous beast. Yet soon Boyle’s predator engages his creator in a battle of wits, questioning the moral value of the scientist’s historic triumph.

Pierre Ekladios enacts the title character, Victor Frankenstein, with a blend of ecstasy at having created new life, to agony when faced with the terror his creation has wrought. Ekladios strives to balance his mad scientific mission with the warm bond of a loving family.

This family is convincingly interpreted by his father (Kenneth Sambula Jr.), his brother (Erick Paul) and his future bride (Alicia Philadelphia). Most impressive is the youngest brother William, energetically played by a diminutive female student, Isabella Tolpal.

Megan Fox orchestrates the story as a young Mary Shelley, enthusiastically supported by Percy (Levi Foster) and Byron (Zachary Guevin). Fox also chills the audience late in the show, doubling as a second “creation.”

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Paul Eggington’s castle-like setting is an imposing backdrop for multiple scenic transitions. The costumes, by Lia M. Hansen, suit the time period well.

While Vanguard’s “Frankenstein” won’t evoke memories of a cinematic Boris Karloff on the rampage, it will touch viewers intellectually as well as emotionally. The Nov. 11 matinee marks the closing performance.

Tom Titus reviews local theater.

IF YOU GO

What: “Frankenstein”

Where: Vanguard University, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Closing performance Sunday at 2 p.m.

Cost: $15 to $13

Call: (714) 668-6145, vanguard.edu

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