Celebrate the 200th Anniversary of 'Frankenstein' with These Chicago Productions

By Novid Parsi | October 31, 2018 | Culture

Two hundred years after its publication, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein comes to thrilling on stages across the city.

Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein comes to life at Court Theatre. (Photo Photo by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux)

There’s the Frankenstein of popular imagination—a mute, villainous monster. Then there’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, whose titular scientist creates an articulate Creature who ponders his predicament as a reviled outcast. Now, in the 200th anniversary year of the novel’s publication, four Chicago theater companies are reacquainting audiences with the fascinating classic while boldly reimagining it.

Shelley’s tale of animating dead matter resonated with Manual Cinema’s artists, who breathe life into puppets via theater-film hybrids unlike anything else in the city. In Manual Cinema shows, artists maneuver paper puppets atop old-school overhead projectors, while a video camera projects the shadow imagery onto a screen above the stage.

“We allow the audience to see both the product and the process,” says Drew Dir, co-artistic director. “So you feel like you’re watching an animated film created live in front of you.”

That method makes the unnatural tale of Frankenstein a very natural fit for the company. “Frankenstein is a story about an obsessive act of creation, and we foreground our own process of creation,” Dir says.

Presented at Court Theatre, Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein animates the novel—and aspects of Shelley’s own life—through different modes of puppetry. At various moments, we see the Creature as a small tabletop puppet, a shadow puppet or a human actor in costume and mask, and cinematic references include silent film and 1930s Boris Karloff monster movies. Explains Dir, “You could say we’re Frankenstein-ing a lot of cinematic tropes into one show.” Nov. 1-Dec. 2, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., 773.753.4472

Plus, three more ways to get your Frankenstein fix:

Lifeline Theatre: Frankenstein is “a metaphor for grief itself,” says Robert Kauzlaric. In the playwright’s new adaptation, Victor Frankenstein is instead Victoria. Overwhelmed by the loss of her mother, Victoria creates a creature—here a larger-than-human puppet— she cannot control. Through Nov. 11, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., 773.761.4477

Remy Bumppo: Two actors alternate the roles of Victor and the Creature in this 2011 adaptation by English playwright Nick Dear. “It explores the duality of both characters,” says director Ian Frank. “And it’s told from the Creature’s point of view, so our journey is his.” Through Nov. 11, Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., 773.975.8150

Lookingglass Theatre: Coming in ’19, David Catlin’s new version delves into both the novel and the life of its creator: 18-year-old Mary Godwin. “She’s a young woman surrounded by death and grief, and she comes up with a story about subverting the natural order to bring life back,” Catlin says. May 8-Aug. 4, 2019, 821 N. Michigan Ave., 312.337.0665

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