After nearly two centuries, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” has embedded itself into popular culture, inspiring hundreds of adaptations on screen, radio and stage.
But the adaptation that almost certainly came first, just five years after Shelley published her novel, was “Presumption: The Fate of Frankenstein,” an 1823 play by the British dramatist Richard Brinsley Peake. It’s the only theatrical adaptation of “Frankenstein” that Shelley saw (in a letter to a friend, she gave it a mixed review, but had praise for the actor playing the Creature).
And it’s a play that Kelly McCauley chose for her theatrical-directing debut. “The Fate of Frankenstein” is set for a live streaming performance Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on the Majestic Theatre’s website, majestic.org. (The performance will be recorded and posted on social-media sites after the live production.)
McCauley was attracted to “The Fate of Frankenstein” for a number of reasons. On the personal side, she’s a longtime fan of classic horror stories, in particular the Universal Pictures monster flicks of the 1930s. The play appealed to the horror fan in McCauley: “I really wanted to see it come to life,” she said.
On the practical side, she noted, since “The Fate of Frankenstein” is nearly 200 years old, it’s no longer under copyright protection, and that helps hold down production costs.
Some bits of the “Frankenstein” legend first appeared in Peake’s play, not Shelley’s novel. For example, the famous line “It’s alive!” never appears in the novel – but debuted in Peake’s play. And Peake added an important character, Dr. Frankenstein’s servant (better known in later versions by the name Igor, but here named Fritz).
But Peake’s complete play clocks in at about three hours: Because of restrictions handed down by King Charles II at the time it premiered, the original production had to include musical sequences, dance numbers and pantomime to be legally staged. The Majestic’s Rachel Kohler worked with McCauley to trim the play down to a more reasonable running time.
Those added features – the songs, the dances, the pantomime – turned out to be obvious things to cut from the play, said Kohler, who adapts plays as a hobby. In fact, she said, she added some of the lyrics from the songs into the play’s monologues. The show now has a running time of about 90 minutes.
As you might expect considering the source material, the show has a touch (or two) of campiness and the horror veers at times into melodrama, a genre Kohler said she has “a real soft spot for.”
“In our hearts, we know it’s ridiculous,” Kohler said of the play – but that still means that the cast and crew must play the material straight, without a touch of irony. ”If you embrace the camp, it’s a lot of fun.”
McCauley said “The Fate of Frankenstein” should play “like a horror-comedy” – and that includes plenty of spooky moments.
As has been the case in previous Majesticpiece Theatre productions, McCauley said, a chat box will be open during Saturday’s streamed performance, so audience members can comment live. Comments will be moderated.
McCauley said she likes the idea that the audience will be able to communicate during the performance and hopes that adds to the experience.
“I really want the atmosphere to be fun and positive,” she said.
IF YOU WATCH
What: “The Fate of Frankenstein,” streaming live on the Majestic Theatre’s website, majestic.org.
When: The live production streams at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 15. Click here for ticket information.
The cast: Brandon Urey, BreAnna Manassa, Trevor Skaggs, Nancy Homan, Zaida Buarque Knight, Marina Alvarez, Carol Flanagan, Rachel Kohler, Andrew Freborg, Lynn Winkle, Alexandria Crowe, Rue Dickey, John Carone, Rose Taylor.