Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a nightmarish dreamscape of fantasy and forbidden desires

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is now on the Matthews Theatre stage at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ, until November 3.

Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann invited the Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago to bring its celebrated production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Princeton. We all have her to thank because Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a thrilling production which will galvanize you to your seat, except for the few times you may jump out of it.

A curious group of poets and intellectuals have gathered at a Mediterranean villa during an especially cold and rainy summer. To pass the time, they have a contest: who can tell the scariest, most interesting story, which will win the bet. The gathering includes Percy Bysshe Shelley, played by Walter Briggs, while Lord Byron is Keith D. Gallagher. Dr. John Polidori is here played by Debo Balogun. The two ladies are Claire Clairmont (Amanda Raquel Martinex) and Mary Shelley (Cordelia Dewdney).  The play opens upon a gauzy pavilion where the two male esthetes recline and posture to entertain themselves, while their female lovers are expected to be a nonjudgmental audience. The group is surprised when Mary Shelley refuses to cede the game, preferring to give her own story. This is the springboard for the production to occasionally lapse into real time for the characters, dropping the game at key points, to make statements about each other, the Shelleys’ own loss of a stillborn child, and Percy’s own absences, obsessions, and infidelities. As the story progresses, the audience is privy to magical realities evoked by the powers of storytelling, until we experience the lightning storm and the creature, who is now no longer recognizable as Lord Byron. There are many differences to the story here compared to that told by Hollywood in film. More death and evil permeate the tale to often thrilling results. The amazing acting by these consummate actors brings about these thrilling moments. These are extremely taxing, physical roles, and all the actors meet these superhuman expectations.

The Matthews Theatre has been reconfigured into an in-the-round experience which adds much to the experience, with characters occasionally popping up in and among audience members. Innovative staging, lighting and scenic effects enhance the macabre elements of the story. Acknowledgment should be paid to the excellent efforts by the Creative Designers of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as it is a true experience not to be missed.

The evening of October 24 was Pride Night at the McCarter. Once during each production presented at the theatres, a Pride Night is scheduled for an LGBT audience with a pre- performance social. This has been a mainstay for many years. Other venues have tried to copy this format. Pride Night was fantastically successful until a year or so ago, when economies resulted in cutting corners, caterers being less lavish with their foods, and moving the venue to the other side of the building, to the smaller venue, etc., with the result being a dramatic drop in attendance.  The good news is that the event is beginning to once again show signs of life. Beverages are now $6.00 or $8.00, half the usual price, and more than one or two desultory trays of nibbles are now offered. Seating remains a problem, though, with some of us having to sit on the benches in the lobby. Many tables once there in the lounge have been removed this month, causing an even greater problem. The LGBT audience is a loyal one, and all look forward to a revitalized Pride Night experience.

Mention must be said about the fine production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein being sabotaged in so many ways by small, yet cumulative problems. Sitting in Row X made the live experience of theatre a difficult one, as it was so far from the stage, even when it was in-the-round. Sitting in Row X also caused one to constantly be aware of the overheard communication between the control booth and technicians. Being in the rear of the house also caused the inevitable stray telephone ringing in the lobby and the squeaky wheels of something being rolled across the outside lobby floors to distract from the performance. In short, if possible avoid the back of the Matthews Theatre. We will not discuss the couple who began shelling and eating peanuts after the intermission.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein will only be at the Matthews Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center until November 3. For information about this and the many other productions offered here, visit .

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