Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” has, if you’ll pardon the unintended pun, taken on a life of its own as an icon of Gothic horror.
Mythical, mystical, shamanic and plain creepy, the tale of human creation of life by raising the dead has inspired innumerable imitations and prefigured a popular entertainment craze. But just how did the then-only-18-year-old Shelley come up with the story now synonymous with horror and also considered one of the first pieces of science fiction?
Playwright Jerry R. Montoya provides a clever, fictionalized answer in the B Street Family Series production, which works as well for adults as it does for children, maybe better. (The theater advisory is for children 10 and older.) The production would need only a few embellishments from Montoya to make it one of the more engaging entertainments on any stage this season.
Conceived as a literary equivalent of Russian nesting dolls with a story within a story, within another story, Montoya has gone back to the well-known origins of Shelley’s creation. Mary Godwin, as she was known then, was at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, in June 1816 with her lover (and eventual husband), poet Percy Shelley, and friends Lord Byron, physician John Polidori and Claire Clairmont. In order to liven up the long evenings, the group decided on having a ghost story-telling competition to which Montoya has added the dynamic of the men believing or at least pretending to believe the women are less competent than they.
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Leading the attractive shape-shifting ensemble are Megan Wicks as Mary and Bryan Staggers as Percy. The rest of the party are John Lamb as Polidori, Stephanie Altholz as Claire, and Michael R.J. Campbell as Byron. As Mary is the first of the group to take up the story-telling challenge, the actors morph into the characters of her creation.
Montoya takes us through the novel’s opening frame of adventurers near the North Pole intercepting the ravaged Victor Frankenstein as he pursues an unknown being through the wilderness. Frankenstein then tells the cautionary story of how he came to be there.
Les Solomon’s distinctive lighting design and Samantha Reno’s smart adaptive set enhance the Gothic mood. Cast members move fluidly in and out of the various stories, with Montoya effectively modulating tension in what is a continually entertaining, though occasionally graphically violent production. The knowing theatricality and fine cast give this production a first-rate sheen.
What: Jerry R. Montoya’s original adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” directed by Montoya and starring John Lamb, Stephanie Altholz, Bryan Staggers, Megan Wicks and Michael R.J. Campbell. Recommended for ages 10 and older.
When: 1 and 4 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, through March 2
Where: B Street Family Series Stage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Information: 916-443-5300; bstreettheatre.org
Running time: 75 minutes including one intermission