OREM — As Halloween approaches each year, we always get a new crop of spooky themed theater offerings from Dracula to Sleepy Hollow to creepy whodunits. Salty Dinner Theater gives us this year its take on Frankenstein. Based on the Mary Shelley book (more than on the Hollywood versions that have come after it), Frankenstien tells the tale of a man obsessed with the secret to life and the particular spark that could possibly reanimate dead tissues. His experiments go terribly awry and soon he is in a mad rush to destroy the fruits of his ill-conceived labors.
There have been many reviews of dinner theatre here on this site. It is a popular format in Utah. One thing that sets Salty Dinner Theater apart from the rest is that they don’t do murder mystery theater. They present classic tales told with a twist. And this is kind of refreshing. There is plenty of audience interaction, and it you can be as involved or not as you wish. As you enter the room (we were at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Orem, a great space for this sort of thing and the ambiance was highly appropriate for the story) you are greeted by the cast who introduce themselves in character. You can chat as much or as little as you want with them and get to know a bit of their back-story before the actual show begins. All the actors did a wonderful job of staying in character and responding well to any questions asked of them.
The story is a bit more dramatic than previous Salty Dinner Theater shows, but still has plenty of humor to keep it great fun. A particular device that I loved was having Mary Shelley change her mind about how a particular scene is being done. I won’t give away the way they change it, because that part of the fun, but it was very effective. Audience participation is also a hallmark of Salty shows, and this was used to very good effect throughout the show. Another feature of Salty shows is the musical interludes during dinner and dessert service. In past shows, the song titles have been written on a sheet on the table and the audience would shout out the song they wanted to hear. This time, each actor had a song or two, but the list was made up of characteristics, such as vampire, murderer, poison, and witch. You didn’t know what song was coming, but each song fit well with the category from the page. The actors were all good singers, and they made the songs come alive, which I found really effective in engaging the audience in the fun. I also appreciated that there were very few microphone glitches that seem to plague dinner theatre shows so much. The music as not too loud nor too soft, and you could always hear the actors clearly.
The costuming, which I understand is very much a group effort by the company, was superb. Nothing looked cheap or shoddy, and it was all in keeping with the time period. The makeup for the monster, done by Alex Angelos, was incredible. I pity the poor actor for the amount of time it must take to apply the makeup and appliances, but the effect is wonderful! It really captures the look of a pieced together creation. Mary Shelley’s make up is also very impressive, and it really gave her a ghostly pallor.
The actors all did well in the performance. Allen Smith was excellent as Dr. Frankenstein and did well to convey the angst of that character, especially when he learns the monster has broken free and is loose in the countryside. He also provided one of the night’s greatest laughs in a series of rapid fire changes Mary Shelley threw at him for the story. Megan Thollen was very lovely as Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s cousin. She is not onstage often, but captures your attention when she is. She really shines in the closing scenes when she takes control to make the monster his bride. Corie Deaun is marvelous as Mary Shelley. She has an other-worldly quality to her acting that is both captivating and a little creepy. She was just what you want in a ghostly specter and maintains that throughout the show. Mary Brassard as Igor/”Eyegor” is the real comic relief of the evening. She plays the character for all its dim-wittedness and does so wonderfully. She has an almost magical way of interacting with the audience and making it seem as natural as can be. She is great fun to watch. Chris Kucera is fantastic as the creature. He gives both humor and pathos to the role that could basically be a throw-away role. He captures the anger, frustration and intelligence of the creature from the book and makes it his own.
There were some minor hiccups in the show. It was their second night, and I suspect that these will be gone in subsequent performances. There were a couple of gaps in entrances and exits, and a little slow pacing in some of the dialogue scenes, but director and playwright Beth Bruner has done a fantastic job of translating a serious novel to the inviting dinner theater format, while maintaining the integrity of the story.
There are a lot of theater choices at Halloween. Salty Dinner Theater’s Frankenstein should be at the top of your list. It is fun, compelling and appropriate for all ages. It gives a bit of a scare, but a whole lot of laughs as well.