PicksInSix Review: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
“LIFE TO DEATH. DEATH TO LIFE.”
An evening ghost story competition in Villa Diodata frames David Catlin’s brilliant new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with Shelley (Cordelia Dewdney), her married lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley (Walter Briggs), Lord Byron (Keith A. Gallagher), Mary’s pregnant step-sister Claire Clairmont (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) and Dr. John Polidori (Debo Balogun) giving birth to the origins of the monster as they spin tales of horror. Catlin imagines an on-going conversation—an ever darker and disturbing series of intersections that, in turn, explore the tragic elements of Shelley’s personal life—resulting in dramatic parallels virtually indistinguishable from the masterwork.
The stunning thriller playing at Lookingglass Theatre Company is the final entry—for now—in a year-long series of Chicago-based interpretations celebrating the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication. The production fills virtually every inch—in, around, above and below—of the iconic black-box theater nestled in Chicago’s historic Water Tower Water Works with absorbing visual imagery for audience members on all sides of the stage. The five actors in the ensemble recreate dozens of roles in a mystical storytelling environment with aerial artistry, reams of fabric and plastic, trap doors, unimaginable surprise entrances and secret exits that make “Frankenstein” an all-encompassing, electrifying experience.
Catlin, who also directs, weaves every nuance of Shelley’s tormented life into the classic retelling of the quest for creation of life. It becomes a metaphor for the creative spirit posing questions of balance between noble intentions and moral responsibility. There resonates in the Creature’s psyche a series of natural responses along the journey to find his Creator, as his scholar’s brain absorbs literature, his emotions well up with the touch of a human hand, and his betrayal sparks his unhinged rage.
Shelley would publish “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” in 1818 having endured, at the young age of 20, the loss of her mother, ten days after Shelley’s birth; the resentment and dismissal of her stepmother; her free-love relationship with Percy and the loss of their first child; the rejection of her father; the suicide of her half-sister Fanny and of Percy’s wife, Harriet; and the successive deaths of two other infant children. It is from these dark and grieving depths that this story emerges and is embodied at a pivotal moment in Catlin’s narrative: “Life to death. Death to life.”
All artistic elements—the raised gothic elements of Daniel Ostling’s set, Sully Ratke’s superb costumes, William C. Kirkham’s stark and resonating lighting, with Rick Sims’s piercing original compositions and impressive sound design, Amanda Herrmann’s imaginative properties and circus designer Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi’s athletic choreography—combine to create a totally immersive experience.
This is a whopping good story, expertly paced with moments of soaring joy and humor, heartbreaking sadness and gripping suspense that will weld you to your seat. The darkest moments reveal our capacity to endure hardship, cradle love and confront our fears, however, you will be so consumed with following Catlin’s exciting and compelling narrative and action that you may be processing all the rest for days to come.
Lookingglass Theatre Company
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
through September 1, 2019
Water Tower Water Works
821 N. Michigan Avenue
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