When I was a little boy, I was drawn to Boris Karloff (aka, William Henry Pratt), probably because of the Frankenstein Monster, whom I perceived more as friend than foe. Of course, "The Mummy", "The Old, Dark House", "The Walking Dead", "The Ape", "The Man with Nine Lives", as well as such Karloff/Lugosi collaborations as "Black Cat", "Raven" and "Invisible Ray" also influenced me, reinforcing my awe of the man's ability to texture his characters with nuance and depth. He did more than play scary characters. He conjured entities who were simultaneously credible and (even when villainous) identifiable.
I also intuitively recognized the kind and gentle man beneath the portrayals, and this was well before I learned to read, to understand per written testament, how Karloff's experiences molded his characterizations. When I was old enough to research Karloff's life and work, the proof-in-the-pudding was there to relish. He was, indeed, as gracious and honorable as I had imagined.
Well, another gracious and honorable man has brought the legend of Karloff to life in a wonderful one-person drama entitled, "Karloff: the Play". The man is Randy Bowser, and I recently had the utmost pleasure of obtaining a copy of this fine actor/playwright's production (otherwise unavailable to the general public).
I must emphatically say, "Karloff: the Play" rivaled my highest expectations, setting me on an emotional swing of pathos and joy. Trust me on this: Bowser has captured Karloff to the tee and his emulation of the star goes well beyond the excellent, elderly makeup. Simply put, Bowser embodies the heart and soul of one of the greatest actors who's ever lived.
The play's construction consists of a string of engaging vignettes, where Bowser channels Karloff into various reflections, including his hopeful sojourn to Canada; his arduous days as a truck driver/struggling Hollywood "heavy"; his encounters with James Whale, Val Lewton, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Pierce, James Cagney, and a most inspiring meeting with Lon Chaney Sr., no less. He delves into Karloff's personal life and extracurricular activities, emphasizing his impact on what became the Screen Actor's Guild (a result of injuring his back while carrying Colin Clive in "Frankenstein'"s windmill scene) and the birth of his beloved daughter, Sara Jane, during the filming of "Son of Frankenstein". Bowser also allows Karloff to reflect on whimsical moments, like being mummified by Pierce, the humongous collar he wore for "Charlie Chan at the Opera", and his disdain for method acting; he even reenacts his duet with Lugosi for "We're Horrible Horrible Men"--priceless!
On the whole, the sequences are an absolute joy to absorb, making this more than a bare-bones, one-man excursion. It's also a visual feast. Lurid reds, gorgeous greens, deep blues and passionate purples sweep over the stage, matching Karloff's moods. Bowser also composed the production's wonderful music and has injected various sound effects with which to interact. In this regard, Karloff responds to these imaginative inclusions, and such creates a warm, amiable atmosphere throughout.
My favorite scene (and many come a close second, mind you) occurs early in the play, when Bowser rekindles, through Karloff's graceful gestures and words, the Frankenstein Monster reaching for the sunlight in that famous scene from Whale's original, where the creature is finally revealed in full view. The moment, though brief, brims of childlike hope and poignancy, thanks to the tender loving care that Bowser invests into it. It's Bowser's respect for Karloff that shines through here (though such is evident in every speck of the play). In such scenes, Bowser clearly demonstrates he understands the man he's honoring, and Bowser's meticulous focus on subtle detail will make even those unfamiliar with the legendary thespian pause and take notice.
I must wholeheartedly confess, it's of extreme importance to me as a lifelong Karloff fan to promote Bowser's enchanting endeavor. What he's constructed is hands down one of the best productions of its kind and exists as an exaltation of an actor who (though held in high regard) still deserves far more praise than he's received.
Please keep your eyes peeled for this invigorating work and lend your support to it (even if its just via ardent word of mouth), in hopes that someone of clout backs it for Broadway. "Karloff: the Play" would be a blazing beacon along that stretch if ever it were given the chance. Both Bowser and Karloff deserve at least that much, and to each superb actor, I give my undying devotion and respect.