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More than a Monster:
Karloff Reveals the Man behind the Icon

November 7th, 2021

Arrayed with costumes and memorabilia, the set of Karloff: The Man and the Monster presents a snapshot of the actor’s career. There’s a sheep’s wool vest from Son of Frankenstein, sarcophagus from The Mummy, gurney from The Bride of Frankenstein, wheelchair from the set of Targets. Behind it all, a projection screen displays the iconic image of a flattened head and scarred brow—instantly recognizable as that of Jack Piece’s design for Universal’s iconic monster.

Enter David Nackman. Slim, grizzled, and sporting the moustache that Karloff often wore when not playing the Frankenstein monster—Nackman effectively projects the image of the man behind the icon.

<<< Actor David Nackman as Boris Karloff, contemplating one of the platform boots that helped transform the 5′ 11″ actor into the towering monster in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931). Photo courtesy of Prime Stage Theatre.

And that’s what the play is about—the man who was more than the Universal icon.

Written by Randy Bowser and Directed by Arthur DeConciliis, Karloff provides a look beneath the cotton, collodion, gum, and greasepaint to tell the story of the actor who struggled for years before his big break … and then struggled even harder thereafter to balance his perceived image with who he really was.

Prime Stage Theatre’s Karloff: The Man and The Monster runs through Sunday, November 14 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Thereafter, the production will be available via video-on-damand through November 28. More information is available here.

Last night’s premiere also featured a post-show discussion during which I had the pleasure of joining Arthur DeConciliis and Prime Stage’s Producing Artistic Director Wayne Brinda in a conversation about the play, Karloff’s legacy, and next season’s premiere of our new adaptation of Frankenstein. During the Q&A session that followed, someone asked if Karloff was Universal’s first choice to play the monster. Interestingly enough, he wasn’t–as can be seen in this early trade advertisement for the film.>>>

Created before anyone knew how the monster was to be portrayed, the advertisement presents a towering man with rays shooting from his eyes. The promotional text reads: “… with BELA LUGOSI (Dracula himself) … as the leading spine-chiller.” Interestingly, the artwork does a better job of anticipating Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong (1933) than James Whale’s Frankenstein.

A second post-show discussion–this one featuring actor David Nackman and director Arthur DeConciliis as well as virtual appearances by playwright Randy Bowser, Sara Karloff (daughter of Boris Karloff), and Stephen Jackobs (author of Boris Karloff: More than a Monster)–will follow the performance on November 12. Not to be missed!

Until then, I’ll leave you with a trailer and commentary by Joe Dante for the film that established Karloff and his monster as pop-culture icons.

Talking Frankenstein

October 21st, 2021

“You’re going to see and feel the essence of who this man was.”  

– Director Art DeConciliis discussing Prime Stage’s upcoming production of Karloff: The Man and the Monster.

In an earlier post, I mentioned how actor Boris Karloff—the man who gave us cinema’s iconic performance as the Frankenstein creature—worked for years as a baggage handler, ditch digger, and delivery man before getting his big break in James Whale’s film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel. And earlier this month, Prime Stage Theatre offered more insights into the actor’s life and career in a virtual conversation titled Beyond Imagination. Folks who logged into that live discussion got to take part in a deep dive into the lives of both Karloff and Shelley. But those who missed the virtual event can still catch a recording of it here.

[Above: Poster art created by Connie Brinda for Prime Stage Theatre’s upcoming Karloff: The Man and the Monster.]

In addition to sharing insights into the lives of the artists who helped shape modern horror and science fiction, the conversation also offers previews of Prime Stage Theatre’s upcoming production of Karloff: The Man and the Monster, which opens next month; and Frankenstein, which will follow in Prime Stage’s 2022-23 season.

Moreover, those who attend the Karloff opening on Saturday, November 6, will get the chance to join the conversation as it continues in a post-show discussion with director Art DiConcillis and me. Reserve your tickets here.

One of the points we’re likely to discuss on opening night is one that Art touched on during our virtual conversation, where he expressed surprise at learning how many people today do not know who Karloff is despite being aware of his portrayal of the creature.

And that’s a point you’ll also find under discussion in the latest installment of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre, where we share some responses to the question: Where did you first encounter Frankenstein? Not surprisingly, Boris Karloff figures prominently in some of those recollections, as you will hear by clicking the player below. I’ll meet you there!

[Above: Prime Stage Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director Wayne Brinda, the 21st Century Scop, and Director Art DiConcillis discuss Karloff and Shelley in the virtual discussion Beyond Imagination.

Frankenstein, Karloff, and Spike the Mutant

September 3rd, 2021

“I was euphoric in June. Look where we are now.” So begins a new essay in the New York Times that considers how the summer we hoped for got preempted by Covid-Delta. That’s the thing with monsters. You can never be sure they’re gone for good.

Cartoon by Dana Summers, Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency, from The Week.

Take the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He ends the 1818 novel by promising to vanish forever, but then – after leaping onto an ice floe in the frozen north, he returns again five years later in the Richard Brinsley Peake stage adaptation titled Presumption: or the Fate of Frankenstein. And then, after Peake dispatches the creature in an avalanche, the monser continues to return in countless stage-and-film adaptations.

All of which just goes to show, you can’t keep a good monster down.

Alas, the same is true for real-world monsters like Covid-Delta. A few months ago, it seemed we were moving on from the coronavirus, so much so that the good people at Prime Stage Theatre officially announced that my new adaptation of Shelley’s novel would premiere November 5 at Pittsburgh New Hazlett Theatre. But now, in a scenario that sounds like the elevator pitch for a Toho monster movie (Frankenstein vs The Mutant Spiked Protein), it appears covid is back with enough vengeance to force a delay.

Poster art for Toho’s 1965 release Frankenstein vs Baragon. (Yes, it’s a real movie.) 

Here’s the official press release from Prime Stage announcing their revised 2021 season.

To ensure safety for our patrons, actors and staff, we have changed our originally scheduled large-cast production of Frankenstein to a oneactor playKARLOFF The Man and The Monster. Frankenstein is rescheduled to be produced in November 2022.

This is a proactive measure to limit exposure to the COVID19 coronavirus. Given the uptick of cases, we believe caution for the balance of the year remains appropriate.

On November 5th, Prime Stage Theatre will present KARLOFF The Man and The Monsterwritten by Randy Browser and directed by Art DeConciliis. Tickets to this show and our entire season will go on sale soon.

This will be our first inperson performance at the New Hazlett Theater since March 14, 2020, when we had to close The Outsiders due to Covid19 and present Prime Online streaming for our 24th Season.

KARLOFF is an original oneactor production where the famous cinema favorite Boris Karloff comes to life.

This multi-media oneact experience traces the origins of Karloff’s career and carries the audience into his rise as one of the most renowned movie monster actors and stage actors of all time.

And so we’re going to have to wait a little longer for our Frankenstein to premiere.

Nevertheless, in the meantime, Prime Stage is planning a virtual event titled Beyond the Imagination, during which I will be joining Director Art DeConciliis and Producing Artistic Director Wayne Brinda for a conversation about all things Frankenstein. The free event is scheduled to take place on October 4 at 7:00 PM.

In addition, also on October 4, we’ll be launching the third season of the podcast Prime State Mystery Theatre, with new episodes dropping each Thursday through the beginning of November. Our new story, which takes place in a theatre during a production of Frankenstein, will invite listeners to follow clues that involve trap doors, a devil’s portal, and a roster of eccentric characters – some of whom may not be entirely what they seem.

Looking farther ahead, I hope to produce a couple more Frankenstein-themed stories for Mystery Theatre between now and the play’s new release in 2022.

We’ll get there, and when we do, I trust you’ll find it was all worth the wait. After all, you can’t keep a good monster down.