Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein – Outcast Souls


Once again, Ensemble for The Romantic Century takes us on a multi-sensory journey into the soul of an artist. As Vincent Van Gogh’s painting (in Van Gogh’s Ear) helped reveal his spirit, Mary Shelly’s seminal creation reflects the author’s psyche. Both shows exhibit quintessential relationships, Vincent’s with his brother Theo, Mary’s, not so much with her lover/husband as with literary child, Frankenstein. The monster is as real and sympathetic here as its creator. Both beings are judged, suffer and struggle towards light.

Playwright/Founder and Artistic Director Eve Wolf integrates influential history. Mary’s life is dramatized in tandem with writing. She often interacts with her “monster.” Symbiotic Romantic music by Liszt, Bach, Schubert, and Busoni are stunningly performed on piano, organ, harpsichord, oboe and vocal. Superb, painterly projection (David Bengali-love the unique play on scale, negatives, and use of shadow) and Set/Costumes (Vanessa James) enriches.  Formidably imaginative choreography by actor/dancer Robert Fairchild acts as vertebrae and gut.

Mia Vallet; Paul Wesley


Mary Wollstonecraft Goodwin was only months old when her mother died. Four years later, her father wed a neighbor with whom she had a difficult relationship. Privately educated and well taken care of on a material level, the young woman’s attachment to romantic/radical poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley was apparently a coup de foudre. Despite being married, Shelley began a public relationship with Mary. Ostracism and debt followed. When Shelley’s wife committed suicide, the couple married, but reputations had been irreparably blackened. They traveled.

The summer of 1816, Mary, her husband, and stepsister Claire Clairmont visited infamous author/poet Lord Byron and his friend/physician/writer John William Polidori near Geneva. Claire was carrying Byron’s child. One of the group’s games involved each concocting a ghost/horror story which he or she would read/enact in front of the others. Byron and Shelley’s overheard discussion of Darwin may have set wheels turning. “Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated,” Mary wrote in a diary. Her tale was Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

By the time Shelley drowned off the coast of Tuscany, the young woman had lost three children. She resettled in England with a surviving son. This, her first novel, was published in 1818.

Robert Fairchild

The monster, as manifest by a hypnotic Robert Fairchild, is brought to life by harnessing a vivid electrical storm. (Beverly Emmons’ Lighting Design is a terrific palette.) We watch pain, surprise, confusion; the frustration of trying to control limbs; emerging into an unfamiliar world with no example to emulate. Whiplash. Calling Fairchild physically eloquent doesn’t come near his embodiment of this tortured being. The thespian has become an actor as well as a dancer inhabiting the archetypal role with originality and vigor.

“It was on a dreamy night in November…” Mary (Mia Vallet) writes off to one side. “…his limbs were in proportion as I had selected his features as beautiful…” Shelley (Paul Wesley) continues. This second quote nags at me throughout. Beautiful, then why?!

Mezzo-Soprano Krysty Swann and Robert Fairchild

The newborn slips on pants and a shirt. (This would be more credible if he were imitating someone.) It’s pouring. There’s an enormous moon. Projections merge from surface to surface. Frankenstein ventures out. He flexes, stretches, shivers, lurches, wanders, sleeps. “Holy night…dawn…dreams…” sings mezzo-soprano forest spirit Krysty Swann running her hands just above his supine body like a faith healer. (The powerful vocalist imbues every song with elemental emotion.)

Marveling at a bird, our hero tries to catch it, leaping, whirling, loose of limb, dizzy, exasperated, creating a ballet of youthful hope. Children (Shiv Ajay – who later plays a lifeless body with great skill, Peyton Lusk, Avey Noble) throw stones at him. The creature reacts like the innocent he is. First hurt and puzzled, then unmoored, blindly striking out with horrific, brilliantly visualized consequence. Catching a glimpse of his face in water frightens and appalls its bearer. He watches and listens to a village family longing for acceptance, warmth.

Robert Fairchild, Shiv Ajay, Mia Vallet

Mary intermittently writes letters placing us in time and geography. Godwin (elegant, stern, believable Rocco Sisto) condemns his daughter for the lengthy mourning of her child. Her husband suggests pretentious, complicated revisions on the early work. Mary writes and reads aloud. Her creation learns to speak. He reads aloud and acts out. Contact with people remains unendurable.

If you haven’t read the book or seen one of several films, you may be somewhat confused by the raw end of Frankenstein’s part of the story. Reviewing a synopsis is a good idea. Still, anyone can understand loneliness, rejection, aspiration and despair. This is a banquet of sensation and unyielding emotion.

Robert Fairchild and Mia Vallet

The unfortunate weak links in this otherwise gorgeous effort are Mia Vallet and Paul Wesley. Neither actor has presence; neither moves with grace and bearing of depicted class. Speech doesn’t carry well and is sloppily enunciated. Feeling seems surface. The two have no chemistry and appear to think they stand alone on the stage. This extraordinary evening is, however, well worth attending for SO many other reasons.

Kudos to Bill Toles’ clarity and balance of Sound Design.

Photos by Shirin Tinati
Opening: Robert Fairchild

Ensemble for The Romantic Century presents
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein by Eve Wolf
Choreographed by Robert Fairchild
Directed by Donald T. Sanders
Mezzo-Soprano- Krysty Swann
Oboe-Kemp Jernigan, Piano- Steven Lin, Organ/Harpsichord-Parker Ramsay
Pershing Square Signature Center    
480 West 42nd Street
Through January 7, 2018
NEXT: Tchaikovsky: None But The Lonely Heart- May 17- June 17 2018

AMP Electrifies


“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness.”

In AMP, now playing at HERE Theater, playwright performer Jody Christopherson forges a curious and vital bond between two women separated by 100 years. The first is Mary Shelley, she whose imagination birthed Frankenstein, the classic science fiction horror, on a bet in a Geneva cottage. The second is Anna, once an aspiring cellist, now confined to an asylum outside of Boston. The two don’t appear to have much in common at first, but common truths begin to emerge as the play moves forward.  

While Mary stalks the stage assembling pieces of the story of her childhood as the precocious daughter of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher William Godwin, of her abuse at the hands of her father’s second wife, and of her love affair with and marriage to poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Anna remains locked on film. Her story is that of an unraveling, with intercut segments describing her removal from recess after an incident with another student—possibly and accident, possibly not—and dropped her in the school orchestra. 

“No human being is born a monster, something has happened to turn this innocent child into a frightening adult.” 

In both biographies, childhood talents are only just blooming when the girls fall victim to adults who deny them praise and applause, who could nurture their skills but instead choose to tear them down. The play’s title, AMP, can be read in two ways. The first is the scientific term for electric current. The second is a take on Mary Shelley’s most famous work, which features the subtitle “The Modern Promethues.” 

In the Greek myth, Prometheus gives humanity fire, and is punished for the deed by being chained to a mountaintop to daily have his liver eaten out by an eagle without dying. Every night the organ regenerates for the following day’s torture. The similarity to his plight and these two women’s is that they were all set up for failure. They are all given the tools for success and then denied that success by the very people who insisted they take up the tools in the first place. That rejection or gaslighting, rightly, infuriates them. To be true to themselves, they have to break their chains and disappear into the ether. 

Christopherson is a captivating performer. As Mary she exudes radiance that has nothing to do with the lightning and “laudanum.” Her cheeks are flush, her excitement palpable. As Anna, she is morose and sinister. Listening to her story, she doesn’t seem as honest and true Mary, as if there are a hundred details she refuses to admit. Yet she remains sympathetic, because like Mary and like so many women, her story doesn’t sound strange. It sounds familiar to the extreme to any woman who has been held back or told to stop being unladylike, that her interests aren’t becoming of a lady. 

The stage setting is simple but very effective, a light fog hanging over all that catches the lights in ways that make it alternately hazy, dreamy, stormy. Christopherson has spliced pieces of her subjects’ work into her own, and we hear their voices cutting in to have their say every now and then. The technical skill necessary of sound designer Martha Goode to make it come together so seamlessly is incredibly impressive. Special kudos also go to director Isaac Byrne for making the video segments so genuinely, incredibly chilling. 

AMP is a moving piece, with shocking moments that make it a truly visceral experience. It’s also worth experiencing as a feminist piece, of which the Marys—Wollstonecraft and Shelley—would have undoubtedly approved. 

Photos by Hunter Canning

Written and Performed by Jody Christopherson
Directed by Isaac Byrne
Playing at HERE Theater in a limited run through December 19, 2017