Cleveland Play House’s ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’ reveals the entire story
It is a dark and stormy night as five free spirited souls gather for a summer of drugs, drinking and debauchery. Mary, Percy, Claire, George and John wile away the evenings entertaining each other with stories and poems. Soon, a competition is suggested by George as to who can write the scariest of ghost tales. The poets try and fail as Mary decides to take a turn.
This is not a commune love-in of the 70s nor is it a typical summer. It is 1816 at the Villa Diodati in Lake Geneva, Switzerland (within sight of Mont Blanc) during “the year without a summer” due to the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia that had drastically changed the climate world wide. The five are Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelly (Madeline Calais-King), Percy Bysshe Shelly (Gavin Michaels), Claire Clairmont (Ellen Grace Diehl), Lord George Gordon Byron (Kayode Soyemi) and Dr. John William Polidori (Josh Bates)...a collection of England’s greatest romantic poets with their lovers and hangers on.
David Catlin adaptation of “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” begins with the five lounging for the evening as a tremendous thunderstorm rages outside. Stories and poems abound when Lord Byron proposes the contest. In spite of being mocked, Mary decides to participate, conjuring up a tale so ghastly that it has survived in popularity for over 200 years. Mary convinces the others to act out the various parts as this gothic tale of love, horror and the power to be a god and create life only to destroy it is fleshed out.
The play is of two interwoven stories. The one being the faithful retelling of the novel “Frankenstein” and the other the complicated tales of love and betrayal between the group. All is not well in paradise so it seems. In Catlin’s version, Mary, after her miscarry is yet to be married to Shelly despite him abandoning his wife, Harriet, and his two children in order to elope with her. Mary suspects an affair between Percy and her step-sister Claire who is very pregnant possibly by Percy. Mary’s eighteen years has been fraught with problems that began with the death of her mother ten days after her birth, her first child miscarried, her father emotionally abandoning her due to her affair with Percy and being a virtual captive of the group.
Lord Byron is in simple terms a profound womanizer who has been accused of having countless affairs with both women and men including his half-sister. He has been forced to leave England forever. Dr. Polidori has accompanied Byron after his disgraceful departure from England having been paid secretly by Byron’s publisher to keep a journal detailing their life on the road. Although John sees himself a writer (he later writes the first vampire story), he is often mocked by the others and is in effect a fifth wheel.
The brilliant Victor Frankenstein has left his family to pursue his dream...to reanimate that which was dead. For six years he has been obsessed with this goal, stitching together a “man” with a collection of mismatched body parts. His efforts yield success...or does it? Along with reestablishing life on a corpse he has been confronted with profound ethical questions such as: What does it mean to be human?...What corrupts us?...What makes us monsters?...Is there a monster within us all?...I there a human within the monster? He is forced by demand from his creation to “manufacture” a bride so that the creature will not be lonely but soon destroys this female version after bringing “her” to life.
This production is absolutely top-notch with every detail given close scrutiny. The actors thrown them selves into their multiple roles (over a dozen total) and each character is clear cut and distinguishable. The theater in the round set by Lex Liang is perfectly designed within the Georgian period theme. Most notable are the various sound effects conjured up by Sharath Patel that were perfectly timed. Even the background music prior to the performance is perfect.
This production is by far the most evenly balanced of the season. Equal elements of sex, love, horror, grotesque, apathy and even bits of comedy abound as well as an unworldly stage set and special effects that draw us in completely. This is not only a faithful rendition of the novel but an intimate view of the protagonists as well. This is must see theater.
Cleveland Play House’s production of “Mary Shelley's Frankenstein” will be on stage in the intimate Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square through November 12, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.clevelandplayhouse.com or call (216) 241-6000.