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Fiends Forever 

A new play about Frankenstein -- and stem cells, GMOs, and cloning

Wednesday, Feb 9 2005
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Few things last for almost 200 years. Corpses rot, buildings crumble, governments fall. But a horror novel published in 1818 by a 21-year-old Mary Shelley remains so relevant that its themes have been reworked repeatedly in books and movies. Now it's being revisited onstage, when Monster, a retelling of Frankenstein, opens this week in San Francisco.

Though updated with hints of modern styles and mores -- the actors wear costumes inspired by punk rock goths and straightforwardly express both hetero and homoerotic tension between the characters -- this adaptation is more faithful than most, centering as it does on a conscious, agonized creature (not some lumbering, insensible, bolt-necked beast) and a well-meaning Dr. Frankenstein whose chief sin is abandoning the life he creates. Recent technological advances -- stem cell research, genetically altered foods, and the ability to clone mammals -- give the play's events a creepy added depth.

"We have all these new ways to alter or create life, but just as in Frankenstein, it's still taboo," says director Bill English.

Monster takes on another contemporary issue by introducing scenes of Dr. Frankenstein's early life, in which the fledgling scholar first hatches his fascination with creation, a contrast to the original story, which jumped right into the doctor's experiments with animation. With these added vignettes, playwright Neal Bell is drawing a parallel between Frankenstein and today's younger crop of biotech scientists, who may be extending their capabilities without considering the morality of what they're doing.

"It's a funny thing, but as smart as we've gotten scientifically, we don't have the beginning of a clue about what life is or what we came from," says English. "It's humbling, because as smart as we think we are we really don't know that much."

Yet in life as in Monster, science keeps relentlessly forging ahead.

About The Author

Joyce Slaton

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