Sunday, August 24, 2014

MARY SHELLEY MONSTER SHOW • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Mother Nature's thunderstorms contributed nicely to the mood of Slightly Askew's opening night of "Mary Shelley Monster Show", an original play conceived by SATE's artistic director Rachel Tibbetts, managing director Ellie Schwetye, and written by local playwright Nick Otten.

In 2011, Schwetye and Tibbetts hatched an idea to create a two-woman piece around Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his monster after watching the National Theatre of London’s production of “Frankenstein” that was being screened at the Tivoli. Driven by a mutual interest in the story, they had a meeting with Otten, associate director for Clayton High School’s theater program, resulting in a narrowing of the focus to the true creator of Frankenstein’s monster -- the novel’s author, Mary Shelley.

Rachel Tibbetts (Mary Shelley)
and Ellie Schwetye (Percy Bysshe Shelley) 
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography
During the course of a portrait sitting, the banter between Shelley (Rachel Tibbetts) and her unseen painter (Carl Overly, Jr.) sheds light on Shelley's life and her group of intriguing friends and family -- progressive thinkers, Romantic poets and philosophers. The fascinating origin of her most famous novel is also included, along with dream-like conversations with the unnamed creature of her imagination, where the increasingly probing monster questions his existence, and the relationship between them.

Mary Shelley initially published "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" anonymously in 1818. When her name appeared on the second edition, her initial acclaim was met, by some, with rejection. Under Kelley Weber's direction, Tibbetts’s thoughtfully straightforward portrayal of Mary Shelley shows a glimmer of fiery strength next to softer moments of insecurity, and pairs well with Schwetye, who covers everyone else. From Mary’s future husband, poet Percy Shelley and the spectral visits of her late mother Mary Wollstonecraft, to her saucy stepsister Claire and the notorious Lord Byron, and of course, the shadowy distorted figure of the monster itself, Schwetye, with small variations in Elizabeth Henning's costumes, delivers a clear distinction across almost a dozen characters with shifts in posture and tone. Overly remains offstage but lends his rich voice to the painter Richard Rothwell, who initiates Mary's reflections.

Ellie Schwetye (Monster)
and Rachel Tibbetts (Mary Shelley), 
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography
The creative elements of the show are no less impressive. Starting with a quick-fire barrage of Frankenstein images, from the classic to more pop culture, the video design by Michael B. Perkins is projected artfully onto David Blake's stunning set of arch-like shapes that imitate the Chapel where the show is performed. These projections remain a strong complementary presence throughout, helping to establish locations and inform a variety of characters. Bess Moynihan's lighting design and Schwetye's sound design round out the technical contributions to lovely effect.

This hour-long one-act, an engaging examination of creature, creation and creator, also includes some interesting history, and will hold your attention from the time you walk in to the last moments. Don't miss this last show of SATE's "Season of the Monster".

Ellie Schwetye (Mary Wollstonecraft)
and Rachel Tibbetts (Mary Shelley).
Photo credit: Joey Rumpell, RumZoo Photography

Written by Nick Otten
Conceived by Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts
Directed by Kelley Weber
through August 30 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Rachel Tibbetts (Mary Shelley), Ellie Schwetye (Mother/Monster and Others) and Carl Overly, Jr. (Painter).

Photo credit: David Blake and Annie Genovese 
Scenic design by David Blake; lighting design by Bess Moynihan; video design by Michael B. Perkins; costume design by Elizabeth Henning; sound design by Ellie Schwetye; dramaturge, Kelley Weber; stage manager, Kristin Rion.

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