There is lots more to the life of Boris Karloff than you might imagine. For example, he loved to play cricket and helped found the Hollywood Cricket Club.
Even though Karloff was 45 years old and just a player of small parts when he first appeared as the Frankenstein monster, in 1931, the good-natured actor from England happily embraced his genre identity to enjoy a long and richly rewarding career.
Tucson actor Charles D. Prokopp has committed his talent to an impressive labor of love in presenting a three-hour performance of Randy Bowser's one-man biography “Karloff,” playing at the APCOT Theatre, 8892 E. Tanque Verde Road
Keeping an audience's attention all by yourself for three hours is no mean feat, to be sure. His director is John R. Gunn.
But Prokopp does it, and by the end of “Karloff” you will feel a whole new connection to this iconic figure. A large part of Prokopp's success is his keen ear for Boris Karloff's accent. With amazing concentration, Prokopp maintains that accent throughout his lengthy performance.
Using Prokopp's own make-up techniques, he also creates the heavy eyebrows, strong chin and other facial qualities that add subtlety to his characterization of the man whose identity began so fearsomely. Over time that reputation as Hollywood's favorite boogieman became a burnished adoration, thanks largely to the development of television.
Network TV executives helped fill all those daytime broadcast hours with the dozens of Karloff films in shadowy black & white, giving early Baby Boomers their first taste of the dark side.
These stories are in “Karloff,” too. The actor felt like the early years of television gave him a second career, or at least a second audience.
That 1962 hit, “The Monster Mash,” wasn't recorded by Karloff but did give his name and fame a sweet kick in the pants for all the kids who watched vintage Karloff at home after school.
Nicely enough, the song is also included in “Karloff” and sung by Prokopp. Recorded music and a bit of film are a part of the show, too, staged by Pandemonium Shadow Show Productions.
That extra kick of popularity paid off in 1966 when Karloff was chosen to be narrator as well as the voice of The Grinch in that now-classic TV animation of Dr. Seuss' “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
“Karloff'” is not frightening, does not try to create any shocking moments. Only in spirit are there references to the scary scenes that made the Frankenstein films so enduring.
We do get a look into Karloff's analysis of what made his portrayal of the monster so successful. The actor always wanted to portray the monster's soul. The part that Dr. Frankenstein couldn't stitch together from the body parts of others.
Karloff applied all of his acting skills, reaching back into his own deep disappointments and frustrations from early in his life, to create those flashes of insight for the audience.
While Karloff's fame soared with the subsequent release of “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) and “Son of Frankenstein” (1939), the career of Karloff's compatriot Bela Lugosi did not.
Karloff thought if only Lugosi had worked on his English more, he would have been able to craft a stronger Hollywood reputation.
It is waiting for moments like these that make “Karloff” worthwhile. Bowser's play does wander a lot, without giving many clues to which year a particular story took place. There is no theatrical arc, but a simple recounting of the milestones, not necessarily in chronological order.
But there is no denying the dedication Prokopp puts into his portrayal. If you are one of those boomers who grew up with Boris Karloff on TV, you will connect with this performance.
“Karloff” runs through Oct. 30, with performances at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, again at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30, at the APCOT Theatre, 8892 E. Tanque Verde Road. Tickets start at $20. Purchase tickets at the theater or on line at brownpapertickets.com, then search for KARLOFF
AWESOME "ASHER LEV"
photo by Ryan Fagan
Asher Lev the Jewish artist couldn't help himself. Even as a pre-school child in 1950s Brooklyn's Hasidic Jewish community he was attracted to the agony of Christ's crucifixion, drawing precociously powerful pictures of Jesus' suffering on the cross copied from the Christian masters.
Asher Lev's conservative parents were shocked and sickened by their son's prodigious talents. Why does he keep drawing these horrible, disgusting pictures? Why can't he draw pretty pictures of birds and flowers?
“The world is ugly. It is not a pretty world,” said Asher Lev, scarcely a teenager. His father kept insisting Asher Lev must fight this ungodly urge, this abomination. He could stop if he wanted to, his father insisted.
This is the set-up for Live Theatre Workshop's convincing production of “My Name Is Asher Lev” written by Aaron Posner, adapted from the 1972 novel of the same name by Chaim Potok. The director is Amy Almquist.
In the title role and giving the performance of his life is Steve Wood, affecting an accent so the part has an even more heartfelt connection. Playing various ages of the artist as his inner struggle matures, Wood creates for us a kind of idealistic innocence that turns to extreme frustration.
This gift from God became a burden and was not appreciated by his Hasidic parents, nor by Asher Lev himself, who loved all the Jewish traditions in which he was raised.
Asher Lev thought he must be possessed. How could such a wondrous gift create such turmoil within his own soul? Was he one of God's cruel jokes?
The only other cast members are Carrie Hill, playing the boy's mother and several other women, with Art Almquist playing the boy's father and several other men.
One of those men is Jacob Kahn, a highly respected Jewish artist. Even more respected is the community's Rebbe. It is the Rebbe who calm's Asher Lev's angry father and shows Asher Lev's controversial paintings to Jacob Kahn.
These conversations between Wood's Asher Lev and Almquist playing the other men become lofty theater, a fine moment for LTW.
“Millions of people can draw,” says Kahn. “Art is when there is something screaming to get out.”
A bit later Kahn adds, “Every great artist has freed himself from something.”
It is the search and the discussion that make this play worthwhile. Wood's intensity adds an urgency that is irresistible.
Almquist's uncanny ability to play with such conviction the angry father who hates those paintings as well as the accomplished artist who sees the genius in Asher Lev's passion make “My Name is Asher Lev” one of the theater season's peak achievements.
Performances continue through Nov. 12, at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E, Speedway Blvd.
Tickets are $20 general admission; $18 students, military and seniors
62-plus. For details and reservations, 520-327-4242, or visit