Actors portray Claire Clairmont, John Polidori, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Yellow Leaf, a play that just now premiered, on January 9, at the Pioneer Theatre in Salt Lake City.
The extraordinary gathering at Villa Diodati in the stormy summer of 1816 — an event that resonates to this day — has inspired numerous plays and films. This new interpretation by playwright Charles Morey had been percolating in his mind for some 20 years. “I find these people absolutely fascinating,” Morey says. "Lord Byron, at that time, was certainly one of the most famous people in the entire world, perhaps only behind Napoleon. Here he is embroiled in all these sexual scandals and these intertwined relationships. Then you add the incredible works of Gothic fiction and poetry that came out of this very short time, and there's something very juicy there."
Director Geoffrey Sherman enthuses, "That's one of the divine forces — how and why did this young woman come up with the myth that is still around. It's a play about the creation of great art in the most unlikely circumstances.”
Interesting connections: Director Sherman co-wrote and directed The Doom of Frankenstein, a stage version of Mary’s novel, in 1984. The actress who plays Mary Shelley, Ellen Adair, once wrote a thesis on Shelley and The Romantics.
Besides Mary’s Frankenstein, the legendary writing contest at Villa Diodati also yielded Polidori’s The Vampyre, a precursor of Dracula. Fittingly, one of writer Charles Morey’s earlier plays was a straight adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel and, later on, he wrote an original play called Laughing Stock that dealt with a theater troupe’s uproarious attempt at mounting their version of Dracula.
The Yellow Leaf runs until January 24.
The Pioneer Theatre Company’s website features a video clip from the production and several pages of information including photos and the Playwright’s notes.
Of special interest: An excellent one hour University of Utah Public Radio program, Radio West, devoted to the play, featuring author Morey, director Sherman, and cast members who perform excerpts.
The Salt Lake Tribune carries an article entitled “Affairs, Egos and the birth of a monster”, featuring a quote from this very blog.