Rob Reese’s Frankenstein tells the familiar story of Mary Shelley’s novel quite faithfully. There have been lots of Frankenstein plays, but Reese’s is extraordinary: with its mutli-layered framing device and its use of theatrical devices such as multiple actors playing the Creature simultaneously, it becomes an exploration of storytelling and playmaking as a kind of creation.
ROB REESE is a playwright-director who was born in Nashville, TN. He received a Communications / Theater Arts degree, with a minor in Film, from Boston College. Reese is the Artistic Director of Amnesia Wars Productions. Reese is on the teaching faculty at the Second City Training Center in New York City, and he also teaches improv workshops and classes.
FRANKENSTEIN - The rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light…
(Pause) (SFX/MUSIC: The faintest of heartbeats can be heard, increasing in strength.) (ALL twitch the fingers of one hand in sequence with the heartbeat. As the beat becomes stronger, MONSTER slowly raises his head and opens his eyes.)
FRANKENSTEIN - How can I describe my emotions at this…
FRANKENSTEIN, MARGARET - Catastrophe!
MARGARET - Or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?
(MONSTER slowly rises, awkwardly examining his own limbs, his range of motion, his perception. MONSTER makes a few simple, quiet sounds.)
EVE - His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful.
EVE, FRANKENSTEIN - Beautiful! Great God!
FRANKENSTEIN - His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath;
MARGARET - his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing;
WALTON - his teeth of a pearly whiteness;
FRANKENSTEIN - but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set,
EVE - his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.
WALTON - The different accidents of life are not so changeable as
WALTON, FRANKENSTEIN - the feelings of human nature.
FRANKENSTEIN - The beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.
(MONSTER reaches towards FRANKENSTEIN and cries out.) (FRANKENSTEIN fearfully returns the cry, and retreats from the area.)
EVE - No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. I escaped, and passed the night wretchedly. A mummy again endued with animation could not he so hideous as that wretch.
(Frankenstein collapses in a solitary spot.) (Pause) (LIGHTING indicates the arrival of morning)
EVE - Morning, dismal and wet, at length dawned. I steeled myself and ascended into my room. I dreaded to behold this monster; but I feared still more that anyone else should see him.
(FRANKENSTEIN pauses by the door, takes a deep breath and fearfully throws it open.)
EVE - My bedroom was freed from its hideous guest. I could hardly believe that so great a good fortune could have befallen me, when I became assured that my enemy had indeed fled, I clapped my hands for joy and laughed aloud.
(FRANKENSTEIN laughs maniacally) (LANDLADY enters)
LANDLADY - My dear Victor, what, for God's sake, is the matter? Do not laugh in that manner. How ill you are! What is the cause of all this?
FRANKENSTEIN - Do not ask me! Oh, save me! save me!
(FRANKENSTEIN struggles wildly as he falls to the ground in a fit. LANDLADY helps him into bed.)
WALTON - This was the commencement of a nervous fever, which confined me for several months. I was in reality very ill. The form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was forever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him.
FRANKENSTEIN - By very slow degrees, and with frequent relapses that alarmed and grieved my nurse, I recovered. It is a divine spring!
Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is dramatized by Lynn Marie Macy, but this playful piece is not content just to put Austen’s charming story onto the stage—it also puts large chunks of the gothic romance The Mystery of Udolpho up there as well. That novel is the one that Northanger’s spunky heroine Catherine is so enamored of; it’s a spark of grand inspiration to let us see that piece unfold side-by-side with Catherine’s own adventures.
LYNN MARIE MACY is a playwright, actor and director who was born and raised in Minneapolis. Macy attended the University of Minnesota and received a B.F.A. in Theatre Arts. She also trained at the Guthrie Theater and with several independent studios in New York City. Macy studied playwriting at New Dramatists in New York City and before moving to New York was a resident acting company member at the Minneapolis Playwrights Center.
MR. MORLAND - Now, Catherine dear, you won’t make yourself troublesome to the Allens...
CATHERINE - I shall prevail upon myself not to inconvenience anyone, Papa.
MR. MORLAND - Don't keep the Allens waiting, then. Oh, Catherine do be so good as to take these volumes for your journey.
HE HANDS HER FOUR ELEGANT SMALL VOLUMES.
CATHERINE - The Mysteries Of Udolpho! Oh, Papa, I've longed for this novel. Thank you, Papa, thank you.
MR. MORLAND - Have a pleasant time...good-bye, my dear girl.
CATHERINE - Good-bye, Papa.
MR. MORLAND EXITS. SHE PUTS THE VOLUMES IN HER TRAVELING BAG.
CATHERINE (TO THE AUDIENCE) - Dear Papa…But this was not the wise advice I expected from the lips of Mama at our parting. Surely there should have been those usual cautions against the violence of noblemen and baronets who delight in forcing young ladies away to remote farmhouses?
CATHERINE TAKES OUT HER JOURNAL AND WRITES. SHE PUSHES HER BONNET BACK
The journey began indeed with comfortable quietness and safety. We were neither accosted by highwaymen nor savaged in tempests. (TO THE AUDIENCE). Nothing more alarming occurred than a fear on Mrs. Allen's side of having left her clogs behind her at an inn. I have begun reading the first volume of Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. It is every bit as magnificent as I dreamt it would be. I am entranced with Emily and her dear, ailing father, St. Aubert, as they make their fateful journey through the Pyrenees Mountains in the South of France...
ON ANOTHER PART OF THE STAGE, AN OLDER GENTLEMAN ENTERS INTO A SPOT. HIS GARB SUGGESTS A PERIOD OF HISTORY AT LEAST ONE HUNDRED YEARS EARLIER THAN CATHERINE'S. HE BECKONS TO CATHERINE. SHE IS NOW “IN” RADCLIFFE’S THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO. – PROJECTION: THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO.
ST. AUBERT (SAME ACTOR AS MR. MORLAND) - Emily, Emily...come quickly or you shall miss this glorious sunset.
CATHERINE - Papa?
ST. AUBERT - Make haste my dear Child.
SHE PUTS THE JOURNAL BACK IN HER TRAVEL BAG AND CROSSES TO HIM HE PUTS AN ARM ABOUT HER.
CATHERINE (AS EMILY) - It is the most beautiful I've ever seen.
ST. AUBERT - The dusky gloom of the woods was always delightful to me. It calls forth a thousand images.
CATHERINE (AS EMILY) - O my dear father, how exactly you describe what I have felt so often.
ST. AUBERT - I shall not soon forget the kindness of young Valancourt. I remember when I was his age and I thought and felt exactly as he does. The world was opening upon me then, now --it is closing
CATHERINE (AS EMILY) - Father, I hope you may have many, many years to live for your own sake --for my sake.
ST. AUBERT - Ah, Emily...for thy sake…There is something about the ardor of youth…It is cheering, like the view of spring to a sick person. Valancourt is this spring to me. Come the glow worm lends his light, step a little further and we shall see fairies perhaps.
THEY HEAR A RUSTLING NOISE.
CATHERINE (AS EMILY) - Father, did you hear that?
ST. AUBERT TAKES A PISTOL FROM HIS BELT.
ST. AUBERT - Stand back my child. These hills are infested with ruthless and desperate banditti.
ANOTHER NOISE A FIGURE EMERGES NEARBY.
ST AUBERT - There!
HE FIRES THE PISTOL. EMILY SCREAMS. THE FIGURE IS HIT. HE FALLS FORWARD.
VALANCOURT - Ah! Monsieur St. Aubert!
ST. AUBERT RUSHES TO HIS AID.
ST. AUBERT - Valancourt!!
EMILY FAINTS AT THE NEWS.
VALANCOURT - I'm not hurt. It is only my arm.
VALANCOURT GROANS IN PAIN. ST. AUBERT BINDS HIS WOUND.
ST. AUBERT - Valancourt, in the name of God, how came you hither? Emily, Emily child, where are you?
VALANCOURT - Emily!!
THEY GO TO HER AS SHE IS REVIVING. VALANCOURT MOVES WITH DIFFICULTY
CATHERINE (AS EMILY) - Oh, monsieur, monsieur...
VALANCOURT (IN GREAT PAIN) - It is nothing, Emily. You see, a wound of no consequence.
ST. AUBERT - How far is it to Beujeu? We must get you to Beujeu.
VALANCOURT - It is two leagues distant. Do not alarm yourself on my account. I assure you I can support myself very well on the journey.
ST. AUBERT - Let me assist you to the carriage. I am heartily distressed by this unfortunate accident Valancourt. You cannot fathom my surprise at seeing you here.
VALANCOURT - You and Emily renewed my taste for society. When you left the village it did appear a solitude. I determined to take this same road, I admit I had some hope of overtaking you.
ST AUBERT - And I have made you a very unexpected return of the compliment. My heart grieves sorely at my rashness. Come, you faint from loss of blood.
THEY HAVE DISAPPEARED.
CATHERINE (AS EMILY) - Oh, Monsieur Valancourt…he must live or I fear, I fear that I shall die.
MRS. ALLEN (ENTERING WITH TRAVELING CLOAK) - Catherine...Catherine. Don’t stand there dawdling. Our rooms are ready, come dear. (MRS. A.LLEN EXITS)
A MAID (AMY) ENTERS AND TAKES CATHERINE'S BAG AND HER BONNET. TWO SERVANTS CARRY HER TRUNK ACROSS THE STAGE. PROJECTION - BATH: PULTENEY STREET
Kiran Rikhye’s The Man Who Laughs, the final offering in this section, recasts Victor Hugo’s macabre tale of a young man whose mouth has been sewn together into a permanent smile as a live “silent film.” As you’ll see, the script is shaped like a movie scenario, complete with titles but not a word of spoken dialogue. As directed by Jon Stancato for Stolen Chair Theatre Company (the troupe for which he and Rikhye serve as co-artistic directors), this piece is a lively and exciting exemplar of the physical theater movement that is gaining rapid currency on American stages.
KIRAN RIKHYE was born in New York in 1980, where she grew up in a family of devoted theatergoers. She earned a B.A. in English Literature and Theater Studies from Swarthmore College, and an M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
A note on the text:
- Projected intertitles are indicated in bold.
- Silent action is indicated in italics.
- Mouthed text is indicated in “quotations.”
- Sound cues are underlined.
SCENE I: The Gypsies
a) Some people are born different.
Some people choose to be different.
Some people are made to be different.
b) This is a story about such people.
c) A cold December night on the coast of Cornwall, 1686.
A band of outcasts prowls the countryside, seeking unwanted children.
d) They are known as comprachicos, and they make their living transforming their innocent victims into profitable freaks. Misery always loves company.
3. Lights up on Dr. Hardquannone, center stage. He stands before a log, a wrapped package raised over his head. Lowers it. Carlos enters right. Pauses. Gestures offstage. Crosses to Dr. Hardquannone. Esmeralda enters right, following Carlos. Comprachicos gather around the log (Dr. Hardquannone left, Carlos center, Esmeralda right). Esmeralda reaches for the package. Dr. Hardquannone stops her. Pantomimes the upcoming surgery: Holds a knife in the air with one hand. Seizes his own face with the other. Carves a smile onto his face. Comprachicos laugh. Comprachicos exit left. Esmeralda pauses. Reaches for the package. Changes her mind. Exits left. Stage is bare. Dr. Hardquannone reenters left. Carlos and Esmeralda reenter left, dragging Young Gwynplaine.
4. Young Gwynplaine: “Let me go! Please!”
Dr. Hardquannone: “Quiet, child!”
“We paid good money for you—
I intend to make you worth the investment.”
6. Dr. Hardquannone: “We bought you fairly.”
7. Dr. Hardquannone laughs.
“Scream, child, scream. Soon you’ll be laughing.”
9. Dr. Hardquannone: “Scream all you want.”
10. Dr. Hardquannone unwraps the package, revealing a glistening knife.
Young Gwnplaine screams. Tries to escape. Esmeralda stops him. Dr. Hardquannone picks up the knife. Carlos clears the log. Young Gwynplaine tries again to escape. Esmeralda catches him by the neck, forces him to the ground. Esmeralda turns for approval to the other gypsies. Young Gwynplaine tries to claw his way downstage. Esmeralda grabs his leg.
Carlos grabs Young Gwynplaine’s arm. The gypsies pin Young Gwynplaine to the log. They bind his arms with a scarf.
11. Dr. Hardquannone raises his knife. Quick tableau. Blackout.