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THEATER REVIEW Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2019-05-22

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Playwright: adapted by David Catlin from the novel by Mary Shelley

At: Lookingglass Theatre Company at the Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. Tickets: LookingglassTheatre.org 312-337-0665; $45-$86. Runs through: Aug. 4

In the season marking the 200th anniversary of Mary Godwin Shelley's groundbreaking horror classic, no less than four theaters have attempted to convey its warning to audiences not yet grown in wisdom sufficient to ensure invulnerability to the danger foreshadowed by its adolescent author.

Over the last eight months, Chicago playgoers have seen the parable of misapplied science framed in a daughter's sorrow at the loss of her father, in an orphaned outcast abused by a cruel society, and in a congregation of shadow-and-scroll puppets. David Catlin's adaptation brings together all these elements to utilize the full range of tools provided by the Lookingglass company's physical facility, creative talents and generous budget.

We first meet the author and her crew comporting themselves in the sybaritic slothfulness affected by boho artists universally, but never more proudly than during the age of Romanticism. They are current paramour and future husband Percy Shelley, pregnant stepsister Claire Clairmont, pack-leader George Gordon, aka Lord Byron, and best-buddy John Polidori. A proposed writing competition leads to acting out the roles in their young comrade's entry. Little do they suspect, however, how closely the human dynamics explored within parallel their own, even to an epilogue prognosticating their ironic and untimely ends. ( "I am not the hero of your story" Percy confesses, to his dismay. )

In summarizing the source material, Catlin strikes the most equitable balance seen this year between the florid language and the sprawling locales characteristic of the period. Daniel Osting's scenic design utilizes every corner of the Water Works' vault-like performance space, with objects dropped from the ceiling and floor-traps facilitating swift exits ( not to mention one spectacular Carrie-moment entrance ). Luckily, Lookingglass actors undergo extensive athletic training, enabling them to sprint effortlessly up ladders to perch on aerial hoops and declaim with operatic eloquence while circumscribing the stage, laden with furniture or blood-spattered drapery.

Never are the formidable technical aspects allowed to eclipse the emotional narrative, however. By the time our foolish inventor and his misbegotten project are reduced to wandering the frozen arctic, the latter's offer to the former of the cloak that he declares "belonged to my father" emerges as terrifying as it is heartbreaking.


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