Rowan’s “Monster: A Frankenstein Play” turns Tohill Theater into a realm of experimentation

"Director Melanie Stewart explains the play as being very “meta” which in theater has to do with the creation of a production and the “bones” behind a dramatic show." -Contributor / Gillian Kenney

Rowan students who came out to see “Monster: A Frankenstein Play” at the Tohill Theater, which ran over the weekend from Feb. 22-25, may have been expecting to see a unique take on the classic tale. What they experienced, however, was a production that took the theme of creation and turned it into a play about experimentation, creation, and authoritarianism.

The interactive play began as soon as the doors first opened with the lights up. The “pre-show show” with cast members running around frantically communicating with crew, one another, and audience members–then a national anthem which paused and restarted several times began to sing. As sirens blared and the sound of a thunderstorm rolling in began to play, a frantic, vague explanation of the show and what the audience was in for alerted patrons that they would not be watching a Frankenstein-related story, but rather a show that embodied the idea of trying to create something new altogether. 

The play begins with lots of different stories and plotlines happening simultaneously, actors rehearsing lines together, a parody performance of “I Want It That Way” by The Backstreet Boys, with all of the lyrics replaced with gibberish, even a large fight between cast members accompanied by Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”

It wasn’t until the intermission was canceled by an authoritative voice, which never arrived on stage, that the story started to gain more structure. As actors began to get reprimanded for smoking by said voice, a “monster” formed, as cast members rebelled to create something completely new and out of control. As the monster grew, cast members behind a white sheet started to pull more and more of the cast in, slowly becoming larger and larger.

Playwright John Clancy attended the opening night of the show, traveling from the Midwest to be there. The play was commissioned specifically for this production, and according to Clancy, the show is all about creation and experimentation.

“The whole thing is you’re trying to make something beautiful and alive, and then it gets away from you and it’s its own thing and you don’t control it anymore, and that’s kind of how it works,” Clancy said.

Director Melanie Stewart explains the play as being very “meta” which in theater has to do with the creation of a production and the “bones” behind a dramatic show. 

“I hope they’ll think about the nature of creation and our role. So, what is our role when we make something, and then what is our relationship with what we have created?” Stewart said. For cast members, this chaotic, movement-heavy type of story meant that their hard work had to happen– not only in creating entertainment but in ensuring that everyone was safe during the process. 

“In theater when you’re doing unsafe things, you have to make sure that it’s safe. So this was a big process of checking in with people, making sure everything was going right to make sure that we were safely doing unsafe things,” said Emile A Wong, sophomore theater major.

For audience members, some felt alarmed by the frantic, manic structure of the show.

“I feel like this play was a mixture of a PTSD nightmare and a drunk sleep,” said Abigail Twiford, Managing Editor of The Whit who attended opening night. However, she also found that the energetic, interactivity made for a “fun” experience as a viewer. 

“In all fairness watching this is a better party than most of the ones I’ve been to at Rowan,” Twiford said. 

For senior theater major, Lily Snow, she too enjoyed the chaos and was expecting the unexpected coming to the show, based on her previous experiences.

“I always come prepared for absolute chaos when it comes to Rowan shows. So I don’t think it affected me, I said, ‘Oh, we’re just in it, great,’ so I was excited to see where the chaos would lead,” Snow said. 

For Stewart, she hopes that while the play was fun and experimental, it left audience members reflective on their own “monsters” in their lives. “How do we love our monster? The monsters we make? Taking responsibility?” Stewart said.

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