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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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 personal history.  


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 Ear


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 story."  


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 story.


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

Midtown West


Closing Date January 7, 2018