Review: Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN at Cleveland Play House

Artificial Intelligence trend makes CPH's MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN even more thought-provoking

By: Nov. 01, 2023
Review: Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN at Cleveland Play House

With the recent uptake in information about Artificial Intelligence, the creation of a monster becomes more real and probably scarier than when Mary Shelley wrote her 1818 novel FRANKENSTEIN; OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS.   
The tale tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment and the results of that creation. 
The real scare may well be that we now are faced with the reality of our ability to “play God” in creating a “life.”  Yes, the danger that lies in willful ignorance, when people neglect to consider the potential negative impacts of their actions.

Frankenstein has become a classic not only because of its of pioneering theme of reanimating the dead and/or creating new life, but also because of the interactions between its two main characters: the young scientist Victor Frankenstein and the creature that he creates, who remains nameless throughout the novel.  (Side note: Since the publication of the novel, the name "Frankenstein" has often been used, erroneously, to refer to the monster, rather than to his creator/father.)

A significant incident In developing her tale took place when, in 1815, Mary Shelley travelled through Europe.  She took a tour along the Rhine River in Germany, and stopping near the site of the Frankenstein Castle, where, two centuries before, an alchemist had engaged in experiments, and it was rumored he created a monster.

As the result of that travel, in 1816, when Mary, her husband Percy Shelley, John Polidori and Lord Byron
 had a competition to see who could write the best horror story, she imagined the story of a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made.  

The book, which she created from her contest story, is considered the first true science-fiction novel. It has had a considerable influence on literature and on popular culture as it has spawned a complete genre of horror stories, films, and plays.

The play, Mary Shelley’S FRANKENSTEIN, which is now on stage at Cleveland Play House, is a stage adaptation, by David Catlin, of Mary Shelley
's book.

The plot centers on “Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster from human corpses. Once the Creature is brought to life, however, Victor is appalled by his creation's deformed appearance and flees in terror. The Creature wanders through the streets of Ingolstadt, lost and confused. Meanwhile, Gretel, a prostitute, is being assaulted in an alleyway and calls for help. The Creature frightens off her attacker, Gretel recoils from her savior, and a mob of villagers chase the Creature away. The next morning, the Creature sees the dawn for the first time and finds Victor's journal revealing the way in which it was created.”

And, thus we fall deeper into the tale of the horrors of the monster’s existence, lack of having true emotions and, therefore, the lack of being able to love.  In contrast to the book, in which Victor dies, at the end of the play he does not.

The CPH production, under the directorship of Michael Barakiva, is proficiently done.  The cast, Josh Bates, Madeline Calais-King, Ellen Grace Diehl, Gavin Michaels (Victor Frankenstein) and Koydè Soyemi (Creature) are all competent in creating the characters they portray.  

Lex Liang’s scenic and costume design, Jakyung C. Seo’s lighting, and Sharath Patel’s sound design all greatly enhance the staging.

Capsule judgment:  The production, though not as compelling as it could be, tells the tale as Mary Shelly intended it.  If you think of the Frankenstein tale as true horrifying and scary, the monster as epitomized by Boris Karloff in the films FRANKENSTEIN AND THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, or ridiculously humorous as portrayed in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN or HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, this is not it.  This is a straight-forth telling of the Shelly tale, with the ominous over-tones of what might be in this age of Emotional Intelligence.

Mary Shelley’S FRANKENSTEIN runs through November 12, 2023 in the Outcalt Theatre in the Cleveland Play House complex of Playhouse Square.  For tickets call 216-400-7000 or Click Here

Next up at Cleveland Play House…Langston Hughes’ BLACK NAIVITY, directed by Tony F. Sias and Erin Weaver, with musical direction by Dr. David Thomas (December 1-16, 2023) followed by the farcical THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, February 10-March 3, 2024.


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