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McCarter Theatre Center puts on a hauntingly good time with ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’

Included in the production’s program was a piece of paper with bolded font at the top, which read: “This is not your typical FRANKENSTEIN.”

Written and directed by David Catlin, McCarter Theatre Center opened its doors in Princeton to the Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”

Told from the perspective of 18-year-old Mary Shelley (Cordelia Dewdney), the production opens with her joined by her friends – Dr. John Polidori (Debo Balogun) and Lord Byron (Keith D. Gallagher), her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Amanda Raquel Martinez) and the love of her life, Percy Bysshe Shelley (Walter Briggs) – as they passed the time with a few drinks and a competition of creating ghost stories.

Casting her friends as characters in her story, Mary Shelley begins to tell the tale of Dr. Viktor Frankenstein and his feared Creature.

McCarter, having redesigned its Matthews Theatre for the production, built rows of seats that were actually on the stage and put audience members inches from the dreaded Creature as he and other cast members use the seats as a part of the set.

Hanging sheets of painters’ plastic on parts of the walls of the theater, it gave a shocking reflection back into seats when certain portions of the show included strobe lights shone, while giving characters a haunting shadow.

The set, though appearing to be basic, was much more eccentric. A square of gray bricks lay on the center of the stage about a foot off the ground, as if a second smaller stage has been placed on the Matthews’ one.

But, the brick panel the actors performed on contained hidden trapdoors, which served as a number of things – but more often than not, as a grave.

When entering Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, glass cages come down from the ceiling, each filled with a different being of life: one with a stuffed rabbit, another with a growing plant, and a third with what appeared to be the skeletal remains of small babies.

Different vials and petri dishes with unknown objects were scattered around the perimeter of the lab, as well, each with a light that glowed a different hue. Textbooks were scattered into different corners of the stage, as audience members were put right into the madness that was Frankenstein’s mind.

Walter Briggs, who played Percy Bysshe Shelley in the production, portrayed Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s story. Switching back and forth between the two roles of fiction and nonfiction, Briggs gave a lovely performance as characters who shared many of the same characteristics.

Frankenstein came across as brash, intelligent, obsessing and a tad bit mad. It truly felt as if his character cared for the one whom he loved, as well as his Percy Shelley caring for Mary.

Cordelia Dewdney, who portrayed Mary Shelley, gave us a wonderful performance as audiences truly felt her isolation and loneliness like the true Shelley had felt over 300 years ago. Taking the helm of multiple roles in Mary Shelley’s story, we see Dewdney portray roles from Creature’s bride to Luna the Moon goddess.

At one point entering the stage from a trapeze hoop floating down from the ceiling, we can see how acrobatic Dewdney is as her Cirque du Soleil-type abilities matched her acting.

But who truly stole the show was Keith D. Gallagher for his terrifyingly amazing performance as the Creature.

Struggling between his good and bad thoughts, the Creature is just looking for someone to care for him. The loneliness of Mary Shelley is reflected through her character of the Creature and we begin to not only understand him more, but Shelley, as well.

Looking only to make a connection with someone at first, the Creature’s thoughts quickly turn to revenge as he plots to take down Frankenstein who casts him aside as a monster rather than son.

Embodying the beast, Gallagher gives a troubling, yet unforgettable performance of the flayed undead being. Complete with drool pouring from his mouth with every line, Gallagher becomes a being that makes you forget about what is actually real and what is imaginary. You are left on the stage with a monster and there is no escape from it or Gallagher’s performance.


“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” will be at McCarter Center Theatre, 91 University Pl., Princeton, through Nov. 3. For more information and tickets, visit www.mccarter.org.

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