Doom metal tracks pulse as you enter the theater set with seats surrounding a raised stage dressed in ceiling-height gauze curtains. The set is disheveled—a fallen chandelier, scattered rugs and pillows—all pushed aside to make room for the evening’s entertainment. Two 19th century literary rock stars, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, joined by Byron’s physician, Dr. John Polidori, Claire Clairmont and Shelley’s lover, Mary Shelley, are spending cold and rainy summer of free-love in Switzerland on Lake Geneva.
MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN Shares Two Worlds
For entertainment, each is tasked with writing and presenting a horror story. We join the gathering just as Byron’s is ending and Mary Shelley’s begins. Through this clever window, the story of Frankenstein is shared with the audience. Seamlessly, we move between the Shelley’s creation story and the angst of the five friends. As would happen in a casual staging, the friends assume multiple roles in the horror, with the very pregnant Clairmont in the role of the child William, the crone, Frankenstein’s mother and others.
Lookingglass Theater Adds Artful Theatrical Effects
MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN is intersticed with Lookingglass’s unique theatrical effects—the moon queen, Luna, descending from the ceiling on a trapeze hoop; monsters and ghosts appearing on the catwalks and trap doors conveniently allowing access to props, bodies and the monsters. Byron and Polidori as Frankenstein and his traveling buddy, Henry, engage is playful fights, dances and romps, all tightly and artfully choreographed for the small stage.
Loneliness and Doom Abound
Loneliness pervades MARY SHELLEY’S FRANENSTEIN. Mary’s loneliness as an abandoned child and adolescent, then as a teen-ager caught in this summer of love. The monster, created by Frankenstein’s genius and pride, longs for companionship unavailable from the world of his creator. Ultimately all of these stories end in tragedy, both fictional and real-life. Byron, Shelley, and Polidori die young; Byron at war in Greece, Shelley drowns at sea and Polidori poisons himself. Mary died at 54, outliving four of her five children. Only Clair lives into old age. In the horror story, the monster kills Frankenstein’s young brother, William, Frankenstein’s bride, and his best friend, Henry. Frankenstein dies, seeking to kill the monster who has run to the Arctic. Learning of his creator’s death, the monster casts himself onto an ice floe to meet his lonely death. The performance ends with five dead bodies cast around the stage.
Converting a Book into a Play is Challenging
In this writer’s view converting a book into a play is challenging. Lookingglass has done well with this genre, premiering Moby Dick, The Arabian Nights, Still Alice, Lookingglass Alice, Stud Turkel’s Race, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and others. MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, written and directed by company member David Catlin, succeeds at both the exploitation of the book and the story of the summer of love, helped along by the exceptional cast. Cordelia Dewdney is both winsome and commanding as Frankenstein’s bride, Elizabeth, and Mary Shelley. Debo Balogun, as Dr. Polidori and Henry, is endearing in the difficult side-kick role. Walter Briggs, Shelly/Frankenstein, is authentically narcissistic and remorseful. Keith D. Gallagher is the arrogant Byron and the awesome monster, a role he mastered without appearing artificial. Cruz Gonzales-Cadel is the calming Claire Clairmont, who shape-shifts into a variety of supporting characters. Her haunting voice scored the horror of Act Two.
Many will likely agree that even without the circus-like contributions of the Lookingglass production, MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN would be an excellent small-theater production, redolent with early 18th century gothic horror. The imaginative staging makes it even better.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Written and Directed by: Ensemble Member David Catlin
Artistic Associate Walter Briggs (Percy Bysshe Shelley)
Debo Balogun (Dr. John Polidori)
Cordelia Dewdney (Mary Shelley)
Keith D. Gallagher (Lord Byron)
Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Claire Clairmont).
Ensemble Member Daniel Ostling (scenic design)
Sully Ratke (costume design)
William C. Kirkham (lighting design)
Artistic Associate Rick Sims (sound design/composition)
Artistic Associate Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi (circus design)
Rigability Inc. (rigging design)
Amanda Herrmann (properties design)
Linda Gates (dialect coach)
Mary Hungerford (stage manager)
Through August 4, 2019
Tuesdays: 7:30 p.m. (June 11 & 25, July 2, 16 & 30 only)
Wednesdays: 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays: 2:00 p.m. (May 30, June 6 & 20, July 11 & 25 only) 7:30 p.m. (Except July 4)
Fridays: 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays: 2:00 p.m. (Except May 11 & 18) 7:30 p.m.
Sundays: 2:00 p.m. (Except May 19) 7:30 p.m. (Except May 12 & 19)
Additional performance on Wednesday, July 3 at 2:00 p.m.
Lookingglass Theater at the Water Tower
821 N. Michigan Avenue
Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders. Please visit her website for more information.
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