April 24, 2014

All Girl Frankenstein

The stage has been an essential medium in the cultural life of Frankenstein. When Mary Shelley’s book was published in 1818, its modest run of 500 copies quickly sold out and the title fell out of print. It might have been forgotten or perhaps remembered as a gothic curio if not for playwright Richard Brinsley Peake. His fanciful adaptation of 1823, Presumption, or: The Fate of Frankenstein, was such a sensation that William Godwin, Mary’s father, arranged for a new edition of the novel, reviving its literary career. The play itself spawned countless knock-offs that would keep multiplying through the years, new adaptations generally inspired by other theatrical versions instead of the original book. When James Whale made the classic FRANKENSTEIN in 1931, the film was based on yet another play, Peggy Webling’s Frankenstein: An Adventure into the Macabre.

To this day, some version or another of Frankenstein — pro, amateur, straight, comedic or musical — is being staged somewhere every week, and the story’s exceptionally compelling themes are often explored by experimental ensembles, as with this recent version by Bob Fisher and The Chicago Mammals. All Girl Frankenstein premiered in October 2013. In January this year, the group performed a special version called Three Girl Frankenstein in which three actresses played all the parts.

All Girl Frankenstein is one of a series of plays where Chicago actresses get to play parts traditionally cast with men. The group staged All Girl Moby Dick in 2012 and All Girl Edgar Allen Poe is being prepared for October 2014.

The Chicago Mammals blog carries bios of all the participants. Pictured in this post, at the top, is Erin Meyers as Victor Frankenstein. Pictured above are Amy E. Harmon as The Creature and Erin Orr as Henry Clerval. Another Mammals regular, Liz Chase, played a creepy lab assistant who sets up the play in a prologue. Completing the circle, the assistant character serving as narrator is a theatrical invention originated by Peake all the way back in 1823.

Reviews of All Girl Frankenstein in The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Theater Beat.


1 comment:

opticalguy said...

I did a little research (a quick internet search) on stage versions of FRANKENSTEIN in England in the 19th century and came up with a STAGGERING number of them. If you've tried to read the actual penny dreadful VARNEY THE VAMPIRE you'll have some idea of the clunky, leaden writing involved. The point is that FRANKENSTEIN was a LOT more popular on stage than anyone seems to realize. It's also where the deformed assistant Fritz originated and where truly dire comedy relief lifted almost entirely intact from other plays of the time were inserted whether or not they fit. VARNEY THE VAMPIRE did the same.