Zoetic Stage Pieces Together Frankenstein at the Arsht Center

Gabriell Salgado portrays Frankenstein's Monster in the Zoetic Stage production.
Gabriell Salgado portrays Frankenstein's Monster in the Zoetic Stage production. Photo by Chris Headshots
In the fall of 2018, Zoetic Stage mounted a production of Bram Stoker's Dracula at the Adrienne Arsht Center of the Performing Arts. The theater company's remix of the Gothic tale featured a script that heightened the claustrophobic elements of the original novel and gave the audience a Dracula with a carnivorous libido.

Theatergoers dug it.

"I didn't know this at the time," artistic director Stuart Meltzer tells New Times. "The theater lore is if you produce Dracula, you have a home run in sales."

In the entertainment industry, the aftermath of a successful project presents its producers with something akin to an algebra problem: X equals butts plus chairs. In addition, X must simultaneously be less than or equal to Y — which, in this case, is a regional theater budget.

Zoetic flirted with the idea of doing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein — specifically the 2011 stage adaptation by English playwright Nick Dear. The play premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London and is most famous for starring actor Benedict Cumberbatch as both Victor Frankenstein and the Monster, alternating from show to show. Meltzer was impressed by the script.

"I never saw it in whole, and then I read it, and I think what excited me was the sparseness of it, the directness of it, the briefness of it," Meltzer says. "I think this kind of hostile world that exists in Frankenstein exists now, and we can relate to it, and we can understand it, and we can also identify that sometimes people are disguised as monsters."

At first glance, Frankenstein's Monster might seem like a less steamy theatrical experience than that of Count Dracula. After all, one is a playboy who seduces European women in his Gothic mansion, while the other is a disfigured misfit with daddy issues.

Meltzer admits being partial to the Count before working on Frankenstein. But after having spent time with both characters, he declares Frankenstein the victor.

"I always preferred Dracula because he sucks blood and there's all this eroticism when it comes to Dracula, and Frankenstein's very different," Meltzer explains. "This one's about hubris and about who is really a monster and about science and modernity versus divinity. I think they're much more powerful themes."

In 2018, Zoetic purchased the rights to the play, although there was some hesitancy about how to approach yet another horror story.

"The humor, the darkness — that fed into my desire to go back into Frankenstein."

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"I know my strengths, and I know my weaknesses, and particularly horror is not something that I often do. It's sort of like a genre scope, so I don't do it often," Meltzer says about fitting Frankenstein to his own sensibilities. "What can I learn? What can I do differently? What are the things that are in my wheelhouse?"

The play was shelved until the creative team could find a satisfying way to piece together its version of Frankenstein. It wasn't until 2019, when Zoetic Stage took a stab at producing Sweeney Todd, the musical by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim about a barber who cannibalizes unsuspecting patrons, that Meltzer came upon the right angle for Frankenstein.

“Sondheim is in my wheelhouse,” Meltzer says. "That is a musical about man eating man literally, and that understanding. The humor, the darkness — that fed into my desire to go back into Frankenstein."

Frankenstein was on track to premiere in fall 2020. Unfortunately, the production was torn asunder by a real-life horror story months before production could even begin. During quarantine, Meltzer connected the dots between Mary Shelley's world and the world portrayed by the 24-hour news cycle.

"I knew that when we got out of COVID and this moment in American history, this large civil-rights call in American history, that was on our pulse," he explains. "I knew that Frankenstein would fit perfectly if given the opportunity to open our doors again."

There's social relevancy to Zoetic's brand: Dracula came nearly a year after #MeToo, when abuses of wealth and power were brought to light. Anyone who confronted Dracula was hypnotized then quickly forgot about his misdeeds, an apt metaphor for what it's like to get chummy with a charming creep.

The parallels between Dracula and Harvey Weinstein seem just about as obvious as the parallels between Frankenstein and the pandemic itself. Both stories are about the abuse of science, followed by experiments wreaking havoc on their communities.

Meltzer, though, sees it differently.

"I don't necessarily think of it that way because I'm very pro-science. What I do think is that there is this idea of man who thinks he can beat God for the betterment of himself. I don't think, particularly with COVID, that we're in a place where science is trying to control man. I think we're in a place where science is trying to continue life and trying to do it in a healthy way to save society. But the correlation is how does pride get in the way of that?"

Science isn't the monster in Nick Dear's Frankenstein — it's man. One of the play's primary themes explores a trait inherent to humanity since the time of the cave dwellers — our capacity for cruelty. From Meltzer's perspective, it's a behavior that our species can't unlearn.

"Our ability just to destroy ourselves," Meltzer says. "And this really takes a look and examines this mistreatment we do to one another, and where does it come from, and why can't we learn these lessons?"

Frankenstein. Thursday, October 14, through Sunday, October 31, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; Tickets cost $50 to $55.
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