Review: In ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,’ a Monster to Love


In a program note, Ms. Wolf writes that she wanted to explore “the connections between the author and her Monster from a woman’s point of view” — links that “may have been unconscious to Mary” but are “glaringly clear” to Ms. Wolf. Beyond the obvious one, the motherlessness of both Shelley and her monster, those connections are not, alas, clear in Ms. Wolf’s text. She puts much emphasis on the deaths of Shelley’s children and on a harrowing miscarriage, but most of that pain was yet to come when Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in her late teens. So the juxtaposition feels forced and unilluminating.


Mr. Fairchild and Mia Vallet. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Worse, the play’s dialogue has a way of shattering the mood created by the music, Mr. Fairchild’s movement and those projections — falling rain (the monster opens his mouth to taste it) or a swooping bird (he chases it with canine delight) or the roiling waves that swallow Percy Shelley.

The production elements that succeed appear to have received more tender care than those that don’t. The acted scenes are so tonally off that they seem like an afterthought. Mia Vallet’s Mary and Paul Wesley’s Percy are jarringly contemporary in affect and lack a vital spark. Rocco Sisto is more solid as Mary’s father, the philosopher William Godwin, and as a blind man who encounters the monster.

Vanessa James’s set, too, is puzzling, given that it needs to work with the projections. Instead it works against them, particularly in Act II, when the hulking gateway that stands upstage center casts a giant shadow on the mountains and sea projected behind it.

In the program, Ms. Wolf writes that this “Frankenstein,” like her ensemble’s other shows, is intended to be “more than a concert or a play.” It is more than a concert. It is less than a play.

In 1831, nine years after her husband’s death, Mary Shelley wrote the introduction to a revised version of “Frankenstein.” In it, she recalled the challenge that Lord Byron had issued to her and Percy in the rainy summer of 1816. “We will each write a ghost story,” Byron said, and from that prompt came “Frankenstein.”

But Mary Shelley noted that Byron and Percy, a pair of poets, had experienced trouble assembling their tales. Her husband, she wrote, was “more apt to embody ideas and sentiments in the radiance of brilliant imagery, and in the music of the most melodious verse that adorns our language, than to invent the machinery of a story.”

In “Frankenstein,” Ensemble for the Romantic Century is similarly better at poetry than sustained storytelling. For all of the show’s flashes of beauty, it remains a collection of disparate parts, not a whole charged with lightning and brought to animated life.

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