Through Sun 11/12
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, now at Playhouse Square’s Outcalt Theatre, weaves a mesmerizing tale about monsters both human and human-made.
Playwright David Catlin has cleverly interspersed Mary Shelley’s well-known horror tale with the somewhat less well-known story about its genesis. It was 1816 and the wealthy, but socially outcast George Gordon, Lord Byron, had invited a trio of other British misfits (poets, teenage free-lovers) to join him and Dr. Polidore (his physician) in his Swiss lakeside villa.
Of course, it was a dark and stormy night. Bored, the five dared each other to write spooky stories on that stormy night. And from that what remains? Yes, vampire tales (thanks, Dr. Polidore) and monsters. While Bram Stoker came later with Dracula (and took over the vampire meme), Mary’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus still dominates the disgusting-monster-in-the-night genre.
It would be hard to overpraise this production. Directed with finesse by Michael Barakiva, the stellar cast of five actors summons Catlin’s layered drama to life with precision timing.
The Outcalt Theatre seating provides perfect audience immersion. For this show, the audience oversees events from seats ascending around a four-sided arena. Designer Lex Liang’s set features a sunken circle large enough to allow the actors space to lounge around its edges and for Dr. Frankenstein to create the Monster.
As the play begins, we observe the actors below us as their characters flirt, pivot between lovers, and settle down on sofas. As Mary spins her story, they become the beings conjured up in her tale about a tragic experiment. What if a man could create life without sexual reproduction? Without a woman? What life might such a scientist conjure? Not a good one, it seems.
A commanding Kayodè Soyemi (as both Lord Byron and the Creature) admirably portrays two distinct beings — or are they? — as he switches from being the member of the nobility to being the pathetic and confused “Creature” that Dr. Frankenstein has stitched from dead animals and humans.
Also compelling, each especially adept at conveying personalizing quirks, were Madeline Calais-King (as dreamer Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin aka Mary Shelley), Ellen Grace Diehl (as flirty Claire Clairmont), Gavin Michaels (as egomaniacs Percy Bysshe Shelley and Victor Frankenstein), and Josh Bates (as practical Dr. John Polidore). Some also briefly assumed supporting roles, but Liang’s costume changes made that easy to sort out.
Due to the plot’s glide from “reality” to “fiction,” it probably would not hurt to read the program notes before you see the show. (Inspiring this comment? A father overheard explaining what happened to his child as we left the theater.)
Bottom Line: A beautifully executed version of a terrifying fantasy. Recommended.
[Written by Laura Kennelly]