Well, one thing we can say for sure about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: it’s alive. The great gothic novel’s 200th anniversary will be observed in Chicago with no fewer than four stage versions, three of them opening in the fall.
And why not? Not only is this birthday round numbered, but the author is as iconic as they come for a culture that’s clearly undergoing a leap toward a new level of gender equality (yes, even despite implacable opposition). Then too, Shelley’s tale of a modern Prometheus who poaches on the powers of the gods is a perfect fit for so many 21st-century anxieties. Global warming. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and the growing confusion over whether people have turned out to be the genius or the experiment. Not to mention the crisis of Western white men, who considered themselves the benefactors of humanity, the givers and guarantors of life, only to find that much of humanity has other ideas.
The Frankenfest will already have started by the time you read this. On September 7, Lifeline Theatre unveiled a world-premiere Frankenstein, adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, in which Shelley’s Victor has become Victoria, a woman undergoing a “nightmare journey of the soul” in response to an “impossible” death. That journey will be taken in the company of an outsize puppet designed by Cynthia Von Orthal.
Starting October 11, Remy Bumppo Theatre plans to raise “questions about scientific responsibility, parental neglect, and the nature of good and evil” with Nick Dear’s 2011 script and an approach, full of implication, whereby actors Nick Sandys and Greg Matthew Anderson trade off playing Victor and the monster. That’s followed in early November, at Court Theatre, by another world premiere: Manual Cinema—which has its own complicated relationship to technology, combining forms as ancient as shadow puppetry, as retro as overhead projectors, and as current as digital video—will offer an ensemble-devised treatment that brings Mary Shelley herself into the narrative.
Lookingglass Theatre will wait until May to show us Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written and directed by company member David Catlin (tagline: “Within every man there is a monster; within every monster, a man. But which is which?”). In the meantime, Catlin and his lead, Cordelia Dewdney, will participate with representatives of the other productions in a panel discussion about this eerie confluence. That’s Sunday, September 30, 1 PM, at the Lookingglass space, 821 N. Michigan. v