Two people stood on stage, a man and a woman. They started dancing, and it was violent, disorienting, and uncomfortable with rough shoves to the chest, each smack enunciated with staccato. When their limbs intertwined they became one individual, symbiotic and unhealthy in their dependence. There was a distinct feeling that they would collapse without each other. When it was done, the woman came up to the man, and with total resolution and a steely look in her eyes said, “Do it again.”
Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “Sea Change,” which played until May 4 at the Loeb Mainstage, was for the most part thought-provoking and innovative, merging different mediums of art to create a rich, textured product. Written and directed by Daniel J. Giles ’13, the show told the story of Mary Shelley and her ill-fated love for her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. The creation of “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley’s literary claim to fame, served as the the thread that linked the plot together, creating a heartbreaking, fractured fairy tale as the pair struggled to navigate their marriage and the resulting emotional deterioration.
Giles’s poignant script and explores how a story can be uniquely shaped by the teller. There are only two characters in the play, but each was portrayed by two actors: Mary (Emily B. Hyman ’13) represents the “real” Mary Shelley, while M (Rebecca E. Feinberg ’13) represents the fictional version of her, the idealization of “Frankenstein”’s creator. The same distillation was seen with Mary’s husband, again played by two actors, each representing a different stage of his life: S (Bryan D. Kauder ’13) and Shelly (John L. Pizzato ’16).
“Death is having a way with people you never had” says M to Mary. When Shelley dies, Mary tries to recreate an idealized version of her life with him. The interplay between fantasy and reality is tricky, and for the most part Giles was able to play eloquently with the idea by breaking and recreating the metaphorical wall between the two dimensions. While the soliloquies and dialogue could have benefitted from some editing, the script’s core theme was always at the forefront of the production.
The set design by Zena M. S. Mengesha ’14 added to this juxtaposition. The first half of the play took place in a white box surrounded by a curtain. The stage presented a distinct feeling of isolation as it tried to emulate Mary’s imagination. It was a brilliant move from Mengesha and Giles to expand the action to take up the entire stage in the second half when the narrator switched from Mary to M, mirroring the shift from a fictionalized story to facts. There were hints of “Frankenstein’s” fantastical, almost science fiction tone: oversized Frankenstein feet were placed to the side and circles that looked like planets and orbits hung from the ceiling.
Giles used puppets to reenact the plot line of “Frankenstein,” integrating the well-known story with the tensions in Mary and Shelley’s marriage. In these emotional moments, heightened by the original music composed by Samuel G. Ruchman '15, the actors and puppets alternated between movement and stillness. The final scene of deterioration between the couple ended with the puppeteers leaving their puppets hunched over each over with their strings loose. As the story between man and monster came to an end, so did Mary and Shelley’s relationship.
Fraught with small interludes of dance, the dance and movement in the production helped to express emotion not innately obvious through dialogue. At times it seemed out of place and unnecessary. One such example came after the death of Wilhelm, Mary’s child. His procession to heaven was symbolized as a puppeteer (Sean K. Hardy '16) performed an acrobatic dance with aerial silks. Too long and indulgent, the intrusion of a circus act into the narration didn’t quite work.
Other times, though, movement and dance were used to spectacular results. One of the centerpieces in the first half of the play was a reenactment of the “Frankenstein” plot through a physical, enlarged storyboard. Perfectly in sync with the music, the puppeteers moved fluidly as they put together pieces of the storyline with Velcro pictures. The final result accurately recreates the inner working of Mary’s mind as she concocts her masterpiece.
At the end of the production, S speaks to Shelley, demanding his counterpart to decide what type of man he will be. “It’s time to decide who you are—maker or monster,” he says. With such an emotional ending, Giles’s “Sea Change” invited its audience to live and breath the life of Mary Shelley, leaving a sentiment that resonated even after the curtains were closed.
—Staff writer Neha Mehrotra can be reached at email@example.com.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: May 13, 2013
An earlier version of this article included a statement and a headline that misquoted a line spoken by the character S in Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “Sea Change.” In fact, S told the Percy Bysshe Shelley character that he must decide whether he was a “maker or monster,” not a “master or monster.”