Robert Fairchild photo
credit: Shirin Tinati
by Arney Rosenblat
an ambitious, visually beautiful attempt to transport an audience
to another time and place.
The Mary Shelley's Frankenstein production reflects the
Ensemble for the Romantic Century's executive artistic director Eve Wolf's
creative goal "to bring historical figures and works to the stage with
great music at the center" Advises Ms. Wolf, "When I read
literature or history i hear it”. Here she decides to explore the connection
between Mary Shelley and her Monster examined in the light of the author's
The impact of death was an integral part of Shelley's life, in her
very DNA It included the loss of her mother shortly after her
birth, the loss of three of her own children, her husband's untimely drowning
in a sailing accident, and the suicide of her step sister.
The overall impact of this production, however, falls significantly
short of the company's earlier work this year, the magnificent Van Gogh's
The birth of the Frankenstein novel seems to have come about
almost as a fluke when in 1816 Mary, age 18, and her then lover, soon-to-be
husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, were visiting Lord Byron at his villa by Lake
Geneva Everyone was stuck inside because of bad weather and probably
bored. Byron challenged each member of the group to "write a ghost
When the conversation turned to the principle of life itself,
Mary's imagination was off and running. According to her 1831
introduction with her subsequent revisions to the novel, Mary commented ,
"Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated...galvanism had given token of such
things." Mary and Percy Shelley had also visited Frankenstein castle
in Germany several years earlier where an alchemist was known to have
experimented with human bodies.
Animating Mary Shelley's story and integrating that story with her
life, however, never really coalesces, which is a pity because there is much to
admire and hold an audience's attention. The visual effects launch the
evening with dramatic vigor -- a rainstorm, flashes of lightning, eerie organ
music and a "monster" tethered by wires writhing on the floor while
Mary Shelley's dreams bring the creature to life.
As portrayed and choreographed by the charismatic Robert
Fairchild, this is truly a monster to love and watching him morph from an
innocent child longing for parental love and human contact to an alienated,
lonely and angry wretch is quite moving.
Says the tormented monster to Victor Frankenstein, "All men
hate the wretched. How then must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all
living things! Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mold me
man?...Frankenstein, How can I move thee? I ought to be thy Adam, but I
am rather thy fallen angel."
Directed by Donald T. Sanders, the production also sounds lovely
as three musicians provide musical context for the story playing works by Bach,
Liszt and Schubert with Kemp Jernigan on oboe, Steven Lin on piano and Parker
Ramsay on organ and harpsichord.
Soothing the monster and serving as a mother-like figure is the
talented Mezzo-Soprano Krysty Swann.
Much of the dialogue in the play is quite interesting originating
from Mary Shelley's letters and diaries as well as her Frankenstein novel. It
may actually send a number of the audience members to seek further information
about Shelley's complicated grief-stricken life.
Robert Fairchild and Mia Vallet
There are even some brief moments of humor in the scenes between
Mary and her poet husband as he edits her clear concise dialogue to
artistic-speak of the time. For instance, "We are all equal,"
writes Mary. "Neither of us possessed the slightest pre-eminence
over the other," edits Percy. Though the original novel was
published in 1818 being issued anonymously with a preface by Percy, Mary
revised the novel in 1831, with that becoming the most go-to edition of the
The threads of the play's dialogue, however, rarely effectively
entwine with the mood of the music, production elements, and dance, making the
story line often hard to follow. This is aggravated by Mia Vallet's Mary
and Paul Wesley’s Percy being miscast in their roles and sometimes just plain
difficult to hear.
Rocco Sisto, on the other hand, as Mary's father, the philosopher
William Godwin, and the blind man DeLacey, who shows the monster empathy and
kindness, captures just the right tone in his performance.
Also of note is the fine projection design by David Bengali and
engaging sound design by Bill Toles.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Off Broadway theater
Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street
Closing Date January 7, 2018