Dark Room Productions Offers A Riotous Spoof of “Young Frankenstein”

Reviewed by Sherrema Bower

Dark Room Productions premiered Young Frankenstein this week. Brought to Flint from San Francisco in 2021 by partners Jim Fourniadis (Director) and Erin O’Hanneson (Producer), Dark Room Productions’ forte is its spoofs and reproductions of TV episodes and films. Young Frankenstein is their second show, after The Twilight Zone in July.

Based on the Mel Brooks film (1974) of the same name, Young Frankenstein tells the story with artful crafting of scenes by Fourniadis. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Jason Brownfield) is visited by Burgermeister Kemp (Brian Powers), who notifies him of the inheritance left by his famous grandfather, that other Dr. Frankenstein, from whom Frederick tries valiantly – and without much luck – to distance himself. As a teacher doctor at a medical school, when a student pronounces his name, “Dr. Frank-en-stine,” he screams, “No, no! It is Dr. Fronk-en-shteen!” His lectures are not without hilarity when he accidentally whacks himself with the pointer. After saying goodbye to his fiancé, Elizabeth (Rebecca Norris), he travels to Transylvania from New York City to claim his inheritance, and meets Igor (pron. Eye-gor, played by Karla Marie Froehlich), Frau Blucher (Joy Bishop) – whose very mention of her name creepily makes lights flash and horses scream – and the “Village Idiots” (Rose Adams and Levi Brownfield). A 7-to-10-day trip turns into nearly two years after Dr. Frankenstein discovers his grandfather’s book detailing how he created the famous monster. A trip to the morgue for body parts (including a certain aspect of a dead horse’s anatomy), an after-hours visit to the local brain bank, and the young Dr. Frankenstein – accompanied by his lab assistant, Inga (Lindsey Briggs) – is back in business.

Escapades abound when Igor’s botched trip to the brain bank is discovered. The Monster (Dan Dulin) appears to be “unintelligent,” having been given an “abnormal” brain rather than the genius one that Frankenstein believed he was stitching in. The Monster is both loveable and frightening in that one is never sure what he will do. While Dr. Frankenstein is busy trying to “love” his monster into some semblance of civilized behavior, while fighting his growing attraction to Inga and the inevitable lynch mobs, he takes the monster to a medical conference in Bucharest, where the two perform “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” with somewhat disastrous results. Eventually, Dr. Frankenstein comes to recognize The Monster’s – and his own – humanity.

Relationships are a strong feature of this production since slapstick and vaudeville would not be what they are without them. For instance, the witty, intellectual banter between the Village Idiots carries a sense of irony. Jason Brownfield’s Dr. Frankenstein maintains chemistry with not only Froehlich as Igor and Briggs as Inga, but with Dulin’s monster. Dr. Frankenstein and Igor fall into the same patterns of the former’s grandfather and the latter’s father, when Igor insists on calling him “Master.” Playing the clueless male scientist to Inga’s expertly portrayed sex kitten, he finds himself drawn to her coy, feminine ways, in spite – or because of – his engagement to the formidable Elizabeth, who would rather preserve her makeup, dress, and hat than embrace him goodbye. The Monster causes Dr. Frankenstein to realize that he is not the “god” he fancies himself to be in creating a man, and upon empathizing with The Monster’s plight, is changed by him.

It was refreshing to see Igor cast as a woman, and Froehlich’s portrayal of the humorous, loveable servant is graceful and unhurried. Present and empathetic to the moods of those around her, Igor is untroubled by Dr. Frankenstein’s angry outbursts, accepting of Frau Blucher’s creepiness (the expression Bishop does with her eyes makes her character especially fun to watch), and she is an unlikely, androgynous sidekick to the coquette of Inga. Froehlich’s Igor is comfortable in her own skin and her hilarious adlibbing of bad puns, while attempting to steal a brain from the Brain Bank, fulfills Mel Brooks’ claim that his works “rise below vulgarity” (rogerebert.com).

The juxtaposition of embodied masculinities between Dr. Frankenstein and The Monster is also a point of interest. The former is slight of form and fills space with expressive mannerisms, while the latter’s height, girth, dark green complexion, and bulbous forehead causes him to appear almost brutish. Brownfield uses anger as a point of humor throughout the show, almost to the point of spontaneous combustion with sexual frustration when the frigid Elizabeth rebuffs him, yet again. Dulin’s monster, by contrast, is charmingly uncouth and not without empathy; for instance, he leaves, rather than harms, Blind Harold (Brian Powers) who sets his thumb on fire, thinking it is a cigar. Together, the scientist and monster create an odd couple with chemistry that makes the show a hilarious romp. The excellent costuming gives the story a sense of timelessness and the sparse props – a small table, suitcase, violin, and “flashy thing” – cause the actors to dig deep in their imaginations to portray images, such as the hidden tunnel behind an invisible bookcase, that are left to the mind’s eye.

This Dark Room Production is a must-see, with its only drawback being the slight numbers in attendance on opening night.

Young Frankenstcontinues tonight and December 17 and 18 at Flint Local 432, 124 W. First St., Flint. For more information contact Erin at 415-246-0064. They are also accessible online at facebook.com/The.Dark.Room.Prod

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