The play has five actors, including Kaitlyn Schirard, who plays Mary Godwin; Logan Sutton, who plays Percy Shelley; Michael Tubman, who plays John Pollidori - the first person to write a vampire story; Megan Gaber, who plays Claire Clairmont - Mary’s half-sister; and Andy Dispensa, who plays Lord Byron.
I spoke with Samuel Adams, the production’s director, about the show, the characters and The Ophelia Theater Group.
So could you tell me a little bit of what the show is about?
Absolutely. It’s a new play by Thomas Kee and it takes place in 1816 within the Villa Diodati. The Villa Diodati was the house that Lord Byron rented in Switzerland.
It was called the year without a summer because there was a giant volcano that exploded and basically blocked out the sunny weather for the entire year.
So, in the house was Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and his future wife Mary Godwin, and a couple of their friends who all shacked up in Byron’s mansion during this summer.
To past the time, they all decided to tell horror stories as part of a competition. That’s what produced both the original vampire story and Frankenstein.
So the play is about the weekend that they all decided to do this. The play follows them through this dramatic and riot time in their lives when they’re all starting to find out who they are and finding out all this incredible poetic talents.
The play is also definitely about Mary Shelley figuring out how to write this story that she has been developing. She didn’t have any other way of proving herself as a writer with these great people except to write this story.
It’s about her transformation and her growth as well as the emergence of this narrative.
How did the idea even translate into becoming a play?
I know that Thomas has always been interested in this period of time and the lives that these romantic poets lived.
The romantic era was a very revolutionary atmosphere. England and the rest of Europe were going through a lot of changes. There was the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of things like reason versus religion or using science and discovering the natural world.
It was about getting in touch with what it means to be a human being and what it means to be a poet. There was a huge outpouring in science and poetry.
I think Tom was really drawn to it because when you encounter a really powerful point in human history like that, it reveals a lot of things about people in general.
He uses the story of these enormous people, these historical figures and these figures in the literary world to say a lot of stuff about everyone and the experiences that everybody goes through. It’s amplified by these magnificent characters.
Is this a children’s show or a show fitting for all ages?
It’s more of an adult show than anything really. It’s a pretty heavy drama and there is a lot of sexuality. They all sit around and drink opium at one point. There are sword fights and a lot of wine flowing.
It’s got a really dark and gothic kind of feel to it. It’s bacchanalian really, which is a word that we’ve been using a lot to describe the show.
What an interesting group of friends that shacked up in the Villa Diodati.
Yeah, exactly right. That’s the circle that was living there during that summer. They were really engaging in this crazy time together where all they did was fight, have sex, did dugs and write poetry.
They’re really crazy but beautiful people. The playwright did take some liberties -- the play’s not completely accurate — but he embellished a lot to bring out the characters and this vibrant place.
Can you tell me about the set design?
It’s in The Ophelia Theater, which is a black box theater. The set is what we’d call a three-quarter round, or thrust, stage.
We basically tried to create a big half-circle where the audience is gathered around the interior of the drawing room in this mansion.
We’ve got a fireplace center stage and a great big table with wheels that they do all kinds of science experiments on. There are books and chairs everywhere.
You kind of get the idea of a study by the fireplace at this really rich, ornate mansion with the French doors.
We’d like to give a shoutout to The Ophelia Theater Group. I believe it’s their third season in New York after being in California.
Just the fact that they are doing wonderful work right in the heart of Astoria with actors and an arts scene thriving here, the fact that they have their own space and are able to do three or four productions a season. For a small theater company, that’s incredible.
That’s the kind of stuff that you don’t get to do unless you’ve been around for a while or you’re doing something right. So they are doing something right. They’re great for the community to have.
For more photos of the show, head to www.johnroberthoffman.com.