Corn mazes, Thriller, Rocky Horror Picture Show, haunted houses, nights of costumed debauchery. The standard Halloween repertoire will never lose its place in our hearts, but we've been looking for a jolt to the system, and Sackerson’s Bride of Frankenstein delivers. The production has brought joie de vivre back to Halloween, and to our experience of theater in general. The play is a kind of Dr. Frankenstein, breathing new life into October's dusty bones.
Bride of Frankenstein is the brainchild of Christopher Clark. Clark heads the theater department at Utah Valley University and directs productions throughout the state. Here, he takes the audio from the classic horror film Bride of Frankenstein, and has live actors lip sync and dancers stage the film onstage, with fantastical and intriguing results. Clark has toyed with this concept before, directing complex on-stage performances of the silent vampire film Nosferatu in a production that really has to be experienced to be understood.
Fans of horror will appreciate the mise en scene from the moment they walk in the door. The dark warehouse that Sackerson Productions secured sets the stage for this non-traditional take on the 1935 film-turned-play. “We wanted something with age and character to incorporate into the atmosphere of the experience,” said Alex Ungerman, Dr. Frankenstein in the play and part of the team that makes up Sackerson. “The warehouse has shaped every aspect of the production in one way or another. It’s given us rich material to converse with and respond to.”
This isn't the first time that Sackerson has gone outside of the traditional venues to stage a play. One of their first shows, part of the Great Salt Lake Fringe festival, opened on the loading bay of an old DI in Sugar House and closed on the shore of the Great Salt Lake.
As Bride of Frankenstein begins, the familiar sounds of a scratchy old film starting up echo through the giant warehouse. The seats have been built to surround the stage on three sides, providing the audience with wildly different experiences depending on where they sit. The costumes and makeup are phenomenal—eliciting gasps from the audience on a number of occasions on opening night, and the varied viewpoints add to that.
The first scene can throw the audience a bit. “They're plunged into watching the lip sync—which is a little challenging to follow for the first few minutes until you get the hang of it. So that first scene is a little difficult for the audience—but after that, most people begin to catch on very quickly,” says Ungerman.
Each actor brings something unique to the production. Ungerman’s Frankenstein captures the complexity of the character, including the monstrosity within the doctor himself. Shawn Francis Saunders might be an actual chameleon as evidenced by his six amazing roles, including the notorious blind hermit. Watch for Maddy Forsyth as Minnie to steal every scene that she is in. Bob Nelson’s Dr. Pretorius is one of the more sinister characters to have graced the stage in recent experience. He may or may not star in your nightmares for nights to come.
Of course, what would Bride of Frankenstein be without The Monster? Kris Paries plays it wonderfully. You won’t see a stiff-armed, bolt-necked, green-faced version of Frankenstein’s monster stumbling stiff-leggedly across the stage—rather, the Monster is an amalgam of fleshy burns and stitched-together pieces, clearly given life after death.
The dramatic final scene, as in the film, is worth the price of admission. Elaborate set pieces, complex choreography, and stellar acting from every cast member bring the performance to its zenith.
The production is greater than just a sum of its parts. Together this team has created theater that is inventive, thought-provoking, technically astounding, and fun to watch. Beyond that, it pulls Salt Lake out of the standard Halloween routine, and becomes a new way to get your creepy kicks.
Things to know:
Tickets: $12-$25 available online or at the door. Reserve your tickets here.
Seating: First come, first served. Hard-bench seating, we recommend bringing a couple of quilts to sit on.
Run-time: 70 minutes, no intermission, no late-entry (There are port-a-pottys outside, but we suggest visiting a loo before the production; it’s just over an hour)