It’s alive! CTC stages ‘Frankenstein’ as one-night-only radio play

Brian Smith | Staff PhotographerRyan Williams French listens to direction from artistic associate Sarah Hartmann while rehearsing for Chautauqua Theater Company’s radio play “Frankenstein,” to be performed at 11:30 p.m. tonight at Bratton Theater. French plays Henry Clerval and the young man.

Brian Smith | Staff Photographer

Ryan Williams French listens to direction from artistic associate Sarah Hartmann while rehearsing for Chautauqua Theater Company’s radio play “Frankenstein,” to be performed at 11:30 p.m. tonight at Bratton Theater. French plays Henry Clerval and the young man.

Part of the thrill of reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is envisioning that night when the monster is created, the eccentric doctor shouting, the electrical wires surging through the lifeless creature and then, finally, the slight stirring of a hand as the being wakes up.

Of course, every reader imagines that fateful night differently.

That’s part of the fun for Sarah Hartmann, artistic associate of the Chautauqua Theater Company. She is also the director of “Frankenstein,” a radio play that will be performed just once, at 11:30 p.m. tonight at Bratton Theater, under the title CTC On the Air. The performance is free, with seating available on a first-come basis.

For Hartmann, the intrigue of putting together this radio play is that half of the imaginative work within the theater is produced by the audience, as if they were sitting at home tuned into their foxhole radios.

“Everybody has an image of ‘Frankenstein’ in [their] head,” Hartmann said. “Whether they’ve seen the movie or not, there is a pop culture image of what that monster is. For radio, people will start with this image; and we reinforce that image at the beginning of the play, and then as it goes on and this monster becomes a character who is speaking, as people are hearing — because the focus in on the sound — they will hear the story in a different way. “

Hartmann chose to produce “Frankenstein” after the success of “Dracula,” which was converted into a radio play last season. She said that because the audience is coming to watch a radio show and not a performance, the attention is skillfully placed on sound.

“What’s important, I think, is focusing on sound and then whatever your body has to do make that sound … that’s what’s interesting to watch,” she said. “But that only works if the focus is not on what I look like doing this [onstage], but what I need to do to make this sound.”

In addition to relying on voice and sound, Hartmann is employing the use of Foley art (designed by CTC sound design fellow Justin Schmitz) throughout the production — including creaking doors, footsteps, electrical storms and even a body being torn apart.

Taking a note from Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” and his other Mercury Theatre radio plays, Hartmann has a flare for the artistic dark side. Using parts of the current Clybourne Park set, Hartmann plans to make sure that Bratton is readied for its late-night horror event. More than that, the show will be recorded live — including the reactions from the audience (Welles’ style) — and will be re-aired on the Jamestown, N.Y., station WRFA-LP (107.9 FM) and put online after the production.

“There is something, I don’t know why, that is so interesting to watch people tell a story this way,” said Andrew Borba, the CTC associate director who is playing the roles of Alphonse Frankenstein and the old man. “It’s almost pulling back the veil to watch us create an entire world when we’re just standing there.”

The world, which has been distilled from Shelley’s novel, will be quickly created in just 30 minutes. Hartmann, who had to do quite a bit of cutting from the book, found and centered on a specific storyline that she wanted to address within its pages.

She decided to examine the relationship between creator and creature, Dr. Frankenstein and his hideous monster, creating an arc that shows how the two characters evolve together. The director and the cast have been surprised at the depth that they keep finding in these characters during rehearsal. Hartmann said that they have discovered themes of guilt, forgiveness and responsibility throughout the text, all realized within her adaptation.

“For me, this has been an exploration, because I’ve never done a radio show before, but I have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein several years back,” said Ryan Williams French, the CTC conservatory member who is playing Henry Clerval and the young man. “It’s been really enjoyable seeing the cuts that Sarah made, because she was able to get a full arc of the story that will be accessible to the audience, whether or not they read the story.”

Hartmann made sure, however, to keep a lot of Shelley’s gothic, romantic imagery — making certain edits to make the language more audibly friendly and action-oriented — yet just as eerie.

“I want to capture that feeling of the thriller and late-night mystery,” Hartmann said. “I love putting audiences on the edge of their seat in that way. When humans are frightened, our senses are heightened. I like the idea, particularly with this radio play, that when we get the audience on the edge of their seats, they’ll be a bit more attuned to all of their senses.”