Story by Gisselle Hernandez, Features Editor
When Spencer Ray saw his name up for the part of The Creature in Mary Shelley’s acclaimed romantic-horror classic “Frankenstein,” he was dumbfounded. He was sure his towering height of 6 feet 10 inches was the reason he got the part of the monster, especially considering he isn’t even a theater major.
Ray, senior from Evansville, Indiana, had always been attracted to theater, performing in church plays when he was a child. “Frankenstein” was Ray’s first play, which debuted last weekend in the Robert E. Johnson Theatre, and the role involved two hours’ worth of heavy makeup to make him look grotesque. Ray said him being a funny person in real life made it difficult to maintain a melancholic and dark composure throughout the play, which involved him delivering high-pitched wailing to show his character’s need for the love and affection of his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.
Ray said his love for theater stemmed from the reason people went to the movies and theater during the Great Depression: to take people’s minds off the problems at hand.
“[People] came to the theater to get entranced in a world they have no idea about; they didn’t care about what was going on out there,” he said. “What mattered at the time was it relieved people.”
As Ray looks forward to performing in more plays, Ray said his family has been the biggest support of his life. He said that no matter what happens, family will always love unconditionally.
“My mother and my father have always been in my corner in my boxing ring,” he said. “Life is sort of like a boxing ring: you fall down, you stand up, you get hit, you throw punches. My family and friends have always been in that corner for me, no matter what I do.”
Daryl W. Phillipy, assistant professor of theater, directed the R.N. Sandberg adaptation of the oft-performed play, which he described in his director’s notes as “a seeming dreamscape.” The play is a nightmare told in flashback. It tells the story of Victor Frankenstein (Brad Rodgers), who is mourning the loss of his mother (Cassidy Edwards) and, through his scientific knowledge, seeks to bring his mother back to life. He eventually succeeds, creating The Creature (Ray) who, because of his ugliness, is abandoned by Frankenstein and left to fend for himself in the world.
The play later develops on the deteriorating sanity of Frankenstein, who ends up becoming the “mad scientist.” The classic is also described as a romance because of Frankenstein’s love for his adopted-cousin, Elizabeth (Campbell Childers), who becomes a target for The Creature.
During the two-hour runtime of the play, actors played their parts in a number of scenes that included heavy lifts, fight scenes and a dance sequence.
Rodgers, senior from Owensboro, Kentucky, said that this was one of the difficulties he faced while acting.
“To keep from passing out was probably one of the most challenging parts,” he said. “Trying to get the lines was my first priority, but trying to keep my energy up was where the real challenge comes in.”
Because of Gov. Matt Bevin’s comments on his opinion that humanities majors, like the Theatre Department, don’t have the same importance as STEM majors, Phillipy said it devalues not only the educational aspects of institutions, but it devalues the governor’s constituents’ enjoyment of the humanities.
“As someone who teaches in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, I really felt like the governor was devaluing me,” he said. “He devalues students who want to go in those career fields, he’s devaluing their career choices and he’s devaluing the way they want to live their lives.”
Rodgers agreed, saying it is even more important now to open people’s minds to appreciate the arts, especially if the cuts go through.
“A lot of people are into sports around here – Kentucky is a big sports state – so for the arts, there is support, but I don’t think a lot of everyday people have a real passion for it or want to go out of their way to see a show,” he said. “They rather go see a movie. For live theater, we have to keep that going.”
Ray was one of those people who was immersed completely in sports. He was an athlete at Western Kentucky before he decided to transfer to Murray State and take a theater class outside of his recreation and leisure services major later on. When asked what made him change his mind, Ray said he wanted to officially be done with sports and pursue what he’s always wanted.
“Athletics no longer has this pull on my life, except for jobs like coaching,” he said. “I finally had time to do this thing that I’ve kind of missed my entire life, because I’ve seen plays and always enjoyed it and finally had time to do something I wasn’t bound to.”
Reflection on Modern Society
“They say it’s a horror story and you know when people think about horror stories, they think about monsters,” Phillipy said. “But [The Creature] is not a monster. He’s like any other human being but society, I think, in general tends to reject those who are perceived to be drastically different than you and I.”
Phillipy said the plot’s message is relevant to society rejecting those of the LGBTQ community and of the issues of illegal immigration. He said “Black Lives Matter” is the same as “The Creature’s Life Matters” in relation to the play.
“That’s the real horror: society devaluing and reviling others because they’re afraid of the others,” he said. “It’s not just a monster movie; again, the horror comes from our own fear in the way we treat human beings.”
Phillipy said “Frankenstein” is one of his top five favorites as of right now, until something better comes along. He said because the play was told in flashback and dreams, it creating a unique artistic challenge and he was able to learn a lot about himself as a director.
“That’s been the exciting part of my journey: learning what I like and how to stage this and what challenge is this new play going to bring me and what’s the next thing I’ll direct,” he said. “I don’t know yet what I’ll do [in the future], but when I do know, I know it’ll be my new favorite thing.”