TOP ROW: Chuck
Tipton, Mary Tipton, Deston(Desi) Lee
MIDDLE ROW: Liana Prehm, David Leigh
BOTTOM ROW: William Lee, Kent Allsebrooke
Frankenstein was my last production with the Harry Blacker Admiration Society. As I've recently found out, it was also the last production of the HBAS, period. We performed it at the USAFE Festival of Plays at Bitburg AB, Germany, on Friday, the 11th of November, 1988. to a capacity crowd in Bitburg's Skyblazer Recreation Center.
The play itself closely follows Bram Stoker's book, allowing for length, and is much darker than the string of comedies I'd done before. Because of travel and the rules of the competition, we were strictly limited in the number of people we could bring, so in this performance Desi got to play a dual role as Victor's mother and as a gypsy woman. In the previous performances the Gypsy was played by Zondra Wiegman, who also designed our costumes. (I say "our" reservedly. The women's costumes were designed... we men had to fend for ourselves in flea markets and antique stores (I made a cummerbund for my tuxedo the day of the performance). This, BTW, explains the Iron Cross on Bill's neck in the photo; we knew it was anacronistic, but he was so darned attached to it!
I played the hapless Victor Frankenstein, creator of the creature. Despite performing in Germany I chose to do the part in a Shakespearian fashion, as for an English audience. For some reason, I wasn't as comfortable with lines as usual, so just in case I kept a script among the papers on Dr. Frankenstein's desk. This turned out to be more of a psychological crutch than a necessity, as I really didn't need to refer to it. There was one occasion, though, when the blocking called for me to sweep my left hand in a dramatic gesture; but when I got to that moment I realized that I still had a drink in my hand (the good Doctor drank a lot.) Rather than loose the spontenaety by putting the glass down first or lose the gesture, I chose to dash the glass against the back wall of the set.
I must make special mention of the Creature, as this was central to the play. One problem with a play of this sort is that the audience is so familiar with the material. They've seen productions by nearly every professional studio, with every possible cast, from Boris Karloff to Abbot and Costello. As a result, it's very easy to disappoint or, worse still, inadvertently fall into comedy. We did neither. Chuck Tipton was absolutely superb as the Creature. His delivery was deadpan and truly did evoke feelings of dread. This was made all the more believable by the outstanding makeup job by Kent Allsebrooke (who doubled in the role of Victor's friend Henry). Rather than go for the cliche'd Boris Karloff look, Kent opted to re-invent the Creature as a passable, if slightly lopsided man who was the victim of surgery, burns, and the physical scarring.
Chuck is a tall, but slight, and that worked to our advantage. With an oversized jacket with slightly shortened sleeves it was easy to believe that he had been put together from mismatched parts. A prosthesis on the head to simulate a scarred, burned pate; a scar crossing one eye with a milky contact to simulate the damaged eye itself and the illusion was perfect. The most amazing part of this was that Kent "cooked" his own prosthetics in his kitchen.
This was a very nice vacation for me. I was a single parent at the time... my son, William, was not yet two years old, and I managed to arrange for a sitter for the 10 days I was to be gone to the Continent. This area of Germany, near the French border, bears an uncanny resemblance to Virginia. We had taken a chartered bus from the UK on a ferry to Holland, and on the way back we had a few hours to kill in CITY. A light fog, rolling through the venerable cobblestones fo a lamplit street; arched bridges over the river; very, very picturesque and enjoyable. I spent some time in some of the shops where world-famous lace is made and sold, only to find out that the lace my mother tats is every bit as world-class.