Monday, March 29, 2021

Robert Rodan's Frankenstein


I wish I could thank Robert Rodan

It was a thankless part. The next big thing after Barnabas. Grand expectations that could never be fulfilled because of the intrinsic differences. But, if you have done Dracula, then you have to do Frankenstein, and someone is going to have to play the creature. I'm not sure if Frankenstein is scary or sexy so much as sad. And sad only goes so far without other, continuing factors to propel it. My hope is that fans look beyond that... and beyond the fact that this lonely and  desperate character was the focus of a storyline that began with great momentum, but, as with most Frankenstein stories, went nowhere. Then again, unless you are a keen student of literature, it can be hard to remember how most Frankenstein stories end. Something about torches and pitchforks. In that sense, the non-ending is as true to the legends as everything else on the show. 

On Dark Shadows, the journey is what matters far more than the destination, and in lauding his contribution to the show, this is essential to remember.  With his death, we have an opportunity to stop and remember that contribution with fresh eyes. It's ultimately inappropriate to compare Barnabas with Dracula. Yes, both are smooth and aristocratic vampires, but that's where the similarity stops. With Robert Rodan and Frankenstein’s monster, we have a much closer analog. 

It's a strange mix of both representing these literary inspirations  and moving beyond them. Few of the show's riffs, though, came as close to the source material as did Adam. So, it's safe to take a moment of license and admit that no other actor was ever given the chance to explore the world of Frankenstein's creation as Rodan.

It was a gift he did not squander. The irony is that a part so broad could be charted with such sensitivity and intricacy. The thing that fascinates me about the creature is that he is, in every sense, us. Few of us feel entirely as in command and knowledgeable of our abilities and circumstances as we like to appear. We are always learning. We're always making mistakes. We are always making dangerous things out of little knowledge. Often before it's even out of the box. Rodan captured the full breadth of that exploration with deftness and commitment. And in one part, he played a variety of them. From pantomime to smug, intellectualized chess mastery, Rodan showed brave command of each phase and of the many gray areas of his evolution between them.  As anything based on Frankenstein would necessitate, it's a philosophical evolution. Humans grow until they die, assembled from the dead and lost parts of life experiences that are constantly forced into new service, just like Adam with his awkward limbs drafted into new battles. Few of us are graceful at it. Less so than any of us will admit.

In his attempt to grow up as quickly as he can, Adam is equally endearing and embarrassing. Rodan embodied that with the right kind of shamelessness. At a certain point, you can't worry about shame. Most compelling characters are beyond it. And most soap villains start out at dizzying heights of power that are then toppled by love. Adam started out as an endearing, oversized infant and was manipulated into abusing that heightened power as it developed. It is a painful reflection gifted to us with joy by this multifaceted actor.  In a show where monsters are used to explore the learning curve of becoming Us, few did so with the forgivable kindness and heart of Robert Rodan. He was our sad friend and most disturbingly accurate reflection. So much of that was in the writing, but so much of it was in him. 

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