The image of Frankenstein’s monster is burned into just about everyone’s memory from early childhood into adulthood. While many of us are most familiar with the 1931 James Whale version, starring Boris Karloff, there have been countless adaptations, updates and spinoffs since Mary Shelley first wrote the book nearly 200 years ago.
This weekend, a new adaptation joins that canon, as a group of Louisville musicians, artists, actors and puppeteers — billing themselves as the Mary Shelley Electric Co. — bring “Creature: A Wretched Frankenstein Puppet Adaptation” to the stage.
He began imagining this show while listening to the music of Axel Cooper and New Mother Nature almost two years ago.
“I listened to their music, and much like Mary Shelley, the images just started coming to me,” Bramel tells Insider. “I started seeing moments I wanted to present theatrically, through puppetry.”
In those first few moments of vision, the ideas quickly turned into a monster, and that monster became Frankenstein’s “Creature.”
While Bramel chose Shelley’s work to adapt, it was a more general love of a certain kind of monster that pointed him towards that character.
“I have a past love for monsters, and I feel like all the monsters I love stem from Frankenstein, whether it’s Hellboy, King Kong, Godzilla or Swamp Thing. But it all goes back to Mary Shelley’s book,” he says.
So he got a copy of that book, which he admits he hadn’t read before his inspiration, and got to reading.
“I was just struck by how different and moving it was, how smart the monster was, the book was,” Bramel explains. “It was neat to read it as an adult and to have all those ideas presented to me for the first time. So we’re trying to go back a little to the source material.”
He came to envision a show that focused on the creature’s story. Those familiar with the book might remember in the middle of the novel, there are several chapters in which the creature sits down with his creator, Victor Frankenstein, and tells the story of his birth and life from his own point of view.
With this concept in hand, Bramel began to reach out to other key collaborators.
His first calls went to Axel Cooper, whose music had inspired those first visions, and local puppet creator Deva North, who previously worked with Bramel on projects like the Squallis production “Beagle Weasel.”
North jokingly calls herself an “art school drop out” and had no theatrical experince prior to working on puppets with Squallis. She says one of the amazing things about puppetry is the inescapable need for all the parts to work together.
“Here’s the thing about puppetry: It does you no good to have a great puppet if it’s not well puppeteered,” says North. “And it does you no good to have a great puppeteer without a great puppet. It has to have that synthesis.”
With the bedrock of the creative team in place, work began in January 2016. From the very beginning, they knew they didn’t want to create a puppet show for children.
“For adults and brave children ages 8 and up,” says Bramel. “We put adults first because we want adults to know they are invited. This is tailored for them.”
Bramel, North and Cooper all have children they’re bringing, but the show is complex, strange and frightening. North contrasted “Creature” with a lot films that are aimed at kids. Many parents, she says, want to put their kids in front of a movie and walk away.
That’s not going to work with “Creature,” says Bramel.
“It’s safe to say we do not want the conversation to end after the show,” he adds. “We want kids to go home and talk to their parents.’
He also hopes adults will leave thinking about what they’ve seen: “We want people to go, ‘I didn’t know that about Frankenstein,’ and go back into the book.”
When Insider visited rehearsal earlier this week, we got a look at the set — and the creature. North says the show, no matter how good the music and other puppets are, only works if the monster is great.
And it is pretty awesome.
It’s a larger-than-life puppet with a gigantic head and eerie mismatched eyes. Bramel spends the show strapped into the monster, moving it around, while another puppeteer works a gangly, mismatched arm, disjointed and out of proportion. It’s a great look for a puppet that is supposed to appear to have been built out of mismatched cadaver limbs.
As exciting and fully realized as this production is, Bramel says he hopes this is just the beginning, suggesting an even bigger show next year. If this initial outing goes well, then the Mary Shelley Electric Co. will invite Louisvillians to come back and celebrate the Creature’s 200th birthday next year.
This is hopefully the beginning of another Louisville Halloween tradition we’ll enjoy for years to come.
“Creature: A Wretched Frankenstein Puppet Adaptation” hits the stage Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20-21, and Friday, Oct. 27, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. The secret venue is located at 1312 Lexington Road.