NEW LEBNANON, N.Y. -- This Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t want to make monsters.
This Frankenstein only came to the castle to sell it.
This Frankenstein never meant to start a new Transylvanian dance craze -- or to read his famous great grandfather’s diary -- or to be hanged.
But in a Mel Brooks comedy, best intentions only guarantee a good dance number, and monsters and men may change places.
"The Young Frankenstein" will open with all three tonight at the Theater Barn.
Artistic director Joan Phelps, a huge Mel Brooks fan, has not seen the show on Broadway but loves the movie.
"Everyone in my family has a different favorite Mel Brooks movie," she said.
Hers is "The Producers," because it sends up theater, but she chose "The Young Frankenstein" for her summer lineup because she loves bringing in shows new to the area. "The Producers" has come to many local theaters, she said, but Frankenstein will make his local premiere.
"This is the great grandson of the Dr. Frankenstein we know," director Bert Bernardi explained. "He doesn’t mean to make monsters. But he’s given his great-grandfather’s book. Looking through it, he think’s it’s crazy -- then he thinks it’s brilliant."
The movie came out when Bernardi was 15, he said, and he fell for it. He has long admired Brooks and his flms.
"I had seen his spoofs of the movies we love, Westerns in "Blazing Saddles," and horror," he said. "Any genre people know well, he plays up the clichés."
"He’s a genius," Phelps said.
When Phelps proposed "The Young Frankenstein’ to Bernardi, he had seen it in New York, he said, in a big production with a cast of some 40 people. He thought of the challenges of adapting it to a smaller space and cast, but he asked to read the script -- and laughed his head off. He knew large scene changes and costumes would take adept handling in this space.
"But it was so funny," he said. "I knew it would be a great Summerstock show. I thought, if I can get through the first 10 pages" here, with his 10-person cast and stage in two simple levels, "then we can do it."
And so they can.
Scenes move deftly from castle to village. Bernardi has fun with the musical numbers -- "clever and smart lyrics," he said -- and the bigdance number, "Transylvania Mania," as Igor comes up with new dance moves to distract the villagers from storming the castle.
As Brooks’ films and plays so often do, it may have rich layers under the slapstick. Here a young man comes from America to Transylvania who has changed his family name (he pronounces it Fronk-en-steen).
Brooks was born Melvin James Kaminsky.
His family were German Jews from Poland and Ukranian Jews from Kiev, and he was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1920, as many Jewish and Eastern European families came to the United States.
Many of these families changed their names, or had their names forcibly shortened at Ellis Island. Brooks changed his as an adult, as a performer.
A little kid who used humor to keep from getting picked on, Bernardi said, Brooks played drums with Buddy Rich, and he became a comedian in the Catskills. He was lead performer in a "Borscht Belt" resort for years, until Sid Caesar hired him to write for television.
He also served as a corporal in the U.S. army in World War II, diffusing land mines. Any man who has seen the trenches -- any man whose family fled from the pogroms and the gas chambers -- may have reason to ask what makes a monster and what makes a man.
And this is the man who mocked the fictional crowd who made "Springtime for Hitler in Germany" a hit, in "The Producers" -- the man who felt sadness or the black cowboy who rides into town in "Blazing Saddles" and hears the town sneer at him. Laughingly, brazenly over-the-top as Brooks’ films all are, sometimes they vibrate under the laughter.
Sometimes they turn the tables. Who are monsters and who are men -- the remorseful con men in "The Producers," the foul-mouthed little old lady in "Blazing Saddles," the gentle, scruffy-looking nerf herder in "Spaceballs"?
And what makes a monster capable of thanking a man for making him human?
"He gave me life and the power of speech," the monster says, pleading for Dr. Frankenstein.
The play gives them both a chance to test "the power to awaken a sleeping heart."
Phelps is sure the audience will wake.
If you go...
What: ’Young Frankenstein’
Where: The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y.
When: Tonight through Sept. 1. Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Admission: $24, $22 matinees
Information: theaterbarn.com, (518) 794-8989