Thursday, September 18, 2014

By You That Made Me, Frankenstein: Do We Create Our Own Monsters?

By You That Made Me, Frankenstein is a show about monsters. It asks the question whether those who create monsters aren’t monsters themselves. While the opera, performed and created by Philly Opera Collective and Brenna Geffers tells the story of how Mary Shelley (Kristy Joe Slough) came to write Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus within a circle of brilliant men and women who seem to have no moral compass, it is also relevant to the current discussion of how we have made monsters out of our current heroes - football players, rap singers, politicians - whose fame and power have turned them into monsters as well.

The opera is set in a rainy summer weekend in 1816 when Mary Shelley, her half-sister Claire Crystal Charles), the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley (Joseph Cianciulli)  - whom Mary eventually marries - and George Gordon, Lord Byron (Brendan Norton), as well as doctor John Polidori (William McGlone) are confined by the rain to a villa in Switzerland. During this weekend, Claire says, she watched “the first two poets of England become monsters.”

After reading a story in Fantasmagoriana, a collection of German tales that had been translated into French, Byron proposed a challenge. They would each write their own story. Apparently it was a successful challenge - out of it grew the monster Frankenstein as well as the precursor of Dracula, by the lesser known Shelley and Polidori, as well as poetry by the poets. So not only were the characters monstrous in their treatment of each other - sex and children were tokens in a game of power that called itself love - the two innocents among them took that behavior and turned it into monsters that the world could see.