“It was on a dreary night in November,” intones teenage Mary Shelley, thrusting a candelabrum in the air and compelling her glib and glamorous friends, poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, physician John Polidori, and stepsister Claire Clairmont, to act out the ghost story roaring from her imagination. It’s the gloomy summer of 1816 in a cabin by Lake Geneva. The result: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, a dark allegory of human creativity remembered for the monster Mary made.
Done in grand Gothic style, with lightning bolts and thunderclaps punctuating every fervid declamation on cue, Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written and directed by David Catlin, is not subtle. Every feeling is amplified to a melodramatic pitch, and the small cast multiplies itself throughout, assuming new identities with the assistance of costumes that at times verge on puppetry. Presented in the round, the actors perch on every edge and ledge the theater offers and hang from silks, hoops, straps, and more, with a precariousness that emphasizes the chiaroscuro between heroism and foolishness, ambition and catastrophe.
There is a substantial distance between the sensitive monster of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel and the lumbering beast pictured in the movies—a gulf between the salacious escapades of the Romantic writers, living as if they had more than the average span of life to spend, and the mortal debts collected from them. Frankenstein attempts to straddle these contradictions in a bombastic telling that is mostly faithful to the frame and occasionally manages to penetrate beyond it. v