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HHS presents 'Frankenstein 1930' -- or science run amok

Frankenstein is the scientist, not the creature he creates.

It's a common misconception that should be put to rest when audiences see the Hudson High School production of "Frankenstein 1930" that opens March 31.

The play was adapted by Fred Carmichael from the famous book by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and tells the story of a scientist obsessed with creating a human life in a laboratory from body parts stolen from nearby graves.

Director Denise Baker has directed two previous plays at HHS, both comedies. Her decision to tell a more dramatic story this year was to give the students an experience of something different yet still exposing them to a classic.

"When I work with high school kids, I like to stay with the classics. It might be their only experience with them. And because we have done comedies in the past, I wanted to try something a little different this year."

Baker looked to the success of recent Broadway shows like "Dracula" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" as examples of what she might do. She decided on Shelley's "Frankenstein." "There is only one student in the cast who had read the book. But they all had this idea that Frankenstein was about this great, green monster. The truth is, it is about the hubris of Dr. Frankenstein and his idea that he could create life."

Baker said the dramatic tone of the show has been a challenge to her young cast but they met it. "It is heavier than what most of them are used to and a little on the campy side. But they know they have to play it straight no matter what."

The lead roles in the show are played by Matt Wakeling who plays the creature, Joe Kaisersatt who plays Dr. Frankenstein and Kelsey Hansen who plays Elizabeth, Frankenstein's fiancé. Providing the third part of a love triangle in this classic horror story is Dan Dodge as Henry Lovitz.

Matt Wakeling has no lines to learn, at least in the traditional sense. Rather, his character has to communicate a whole range of emotions without using any words at all. Through a series of grunts, screams and other assorted noises, Wakeling - as the "creature" - portrays childlike curiosity, innocence, fear and ultimately life-threatening anger.

Wakeling has previously appeared in the comedies "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "Guys and Dolls." This is the junior's first dramatic role.

With Baker's help, Wakeling learned to use his diaphragm and breathing to create a whole repertoire of sounds to communicate his emotions throughout the show. As important as the sounds he makes are the facial expressions that go with them to get his character's meaning across.

"Matt has a big challenge. He can't even use facial expression that much because of the makeup. It really is all about his voice and his body language," said Baker.

Wakeling said he has spent a lot of time in his room practicing his screams and grunts. While Baker helped him explore the range of his voice, she left to him to expand his character through this non-verbal communication.

"The creature is a complex character, not just a monster," said Wakeling. "He starts out very childlike, innocent in a way, but then as things start to happen and he doesn't understand, he gets frustrated. He doesn't understand why he was created, and ultimately he seeks revenge against the man who created him."

Wakeling said there is a message in the familiar horror story. "It isn't ever a good idea to play God with someone else's life. And it is never easy being different." Wakeling said the role required he put his inhibitions aside. "That was a little hard at first, kind of embarrassing playing with a ball on my hands and knees like a little kid. But the more I did it, the more the character took shape for me and I could let go and become him."

Wakeling, who is interested in becoming an art teacher, believes acting is just another type of artistic expression. "It is a great creative outlet, and being someone else for a while is lots of fun. And there's the rush you get from the audience and seeing them react."

This is also Joe Kaisersatt's first experience in a drama, having played the "Nerd" successfully two years ago as a freshman.

Kaisersatt is Dr. Victor Frankenstein, a scientist obsessed with doing something that had never been done before. "He wants to be famous, prove to the world what he can do, but he takes his desire too far. He tries to play God, and it backfires on him."

Kaisersatt was at first intimidated by playing a dramatic role, being more comfortable with playing it for laughs. "It's easier to hide mistakes or missteps when it's comedy. I'm kind of a comic personality and it felt more familiar. With this, it's more serious. You can't cover mistakes as easily, and you have to stay in character - a character that's very different from who I am."

Baker said, "Joe really has to be almost bipolar in this role, playing a nice guy who loves his fiancé and then a man obsessed with creating life, no matter what it costs."

Kaisersatt said it took the first three weeks of rehearsal before he learned how to make Frankenstein who he is while onstage. "You can't break from that - you can't stop being Frankenstein and thinking like him. These are his problems, and I have to try and fix them as him. I have never worked as hard staying in character, but I'm liking it."

Kaisersatt said his character is a complex man, very brilliant but misguided. "His relationship with the creature is a difficult one. The creature is everything he's worked for, and he doesn't want to destroy him, but he has to make a choice in the end."

Kaisersatt said the best part of being in HHS productions is the chance to work with "lots of people from all the other classes." He believes he benefited as a freshman working with older students in "The Nerd" and now that he's an upperclassman, he's enjoying working with students new to the experience. "It really isn't about whether you're a freshman or a junior. We all work right next to each other, and we're all on the same page. It's a great way to get to know people you might not get to any other way."

Kelsey Hansen is a sophomore who has already been in two other HHS productions including last year's "Arsenic and Old Lace," where she played the love interest to another less-than-normal male lead, Mortimer. As the fiancé of Dr. Frankenstein, Hansen has another difficult man to deal with. She acknowledges she appears to have a penchant for playing opposite some slightly strange male characters

Hansen said she finds drama harder than her previous comedic or musical roles. "I am used to being in fun, kind of uplifting things. This felt a little strange at first, but now I find it kind of fun and a challenge to be in something different."

Hansen said Elizabeth is a kind of damsel in distress, but there is more to her character than that. "It seems kind of old-fashioned in a lot of ways, but she really is a caring person and wants the best for everyone, even the creature. She doesn't want anyone to end up hurt."

Baker said her cast and crew are working very hard on their latest production. "These kids all have multiple commitments and activities they are involved in. It is very difficult to make time for everything, but they do it. This is a really good bunch," said Baker.

"Frankenstein 1930" opens Friday, March 31, at 7 p.m. Additional performances are April 1, 7 p.m., April 2, 2 p.m., April 6, 7 p.m., April 8, 7 p.m., and April 9, 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the HHS box office during lunch hours and after school, or at the door before performances.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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