Miller brings unique perspective to Shelley’s classic
Special to the Enquirer
In 1818, Victor Frankenstein created a monster. Emerging from the pages of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein’s monster has captured the imaginations of readers and moviegoers for over a century.
Just in time for Halloween the monster has been reborn, lumbering across the stage in a new adaptation written by local playwright Wayne Miller. The play is being performed at Coffee and Play House in Decatur through Oct. 27.
Fans of classic monster movies will find all of the elements of the familiar story in Miller’s play, including a talented but misguided scientist and a misunderstood monster. However, the play features a twist on the traditional narrative: the monster is a woman.
Although previous adaptations of the story have featured a female monster as a secondary character, but Victor Frankenstein’s first monster has traditionally been depicted as male. “You see the Bride of Frankenstein as sort of a companion to the monster but to my knowledge, I have never seen a movie or a play where the monster is a woman,” Miller said.
Envisioning a female monster adds a new dimension to the story. “It really affects everything about how we depict the monster,” Miller said.
In Miller’s retelling, themes of beauty and acceptance become particularly relevant. “Something that really came to light was the theme of her ugliness,” Miller said. “The monster feels ostracized, but when it’s a woman it really underscores that; the fact that she is really physically ugly, I think she feels that much more strongly than a male would or at least is more open about it.”
While the play introduces new themes, the adaptation also retains the themes of the original work. “I think when you put out that it’s a new production people expect certain things to be different and I think if it’s true to the spirit of the original then audiences are willing to accept that,” Miller said. While the gender of the monster changes some elements of the story, the adaptation still addresses the larger themes of science and ethics that Shelley introduced in the original work.
Why has Mary Shelley’s story left such an enduring mark on the cultural landscape? Miller suggests that portrayal of scientific advancement gone wrong remains relevant to viewers today.
“With stem cells and cloning and all the things that we can do now as technology has advanced, the question is: are there things that we shouldn’t do even if we have the ability?,” he said. “That’s really the central theme of the novel I think and it’s certainly something we are confronted with today.” The questions that first captivated Shelley in 1818 still resound with audiences.
Frankenstein: The Untold Story is not Miller’s first playwriting effort. “I’ve done a little bit of everything from family musicals to comedies.,” he said. “I’ve tried to show some versatility.”
Miller began writing plays after working on productions with his wife. “It was sort of a natural evolution,” he explained. He is currently developing his next play, an adaptation of one of Grimms’ fairy tales that will be performed at the Burritt Museum in Huntsville next year.