RADIO HOUR: FRANKENSTEIN | October 24-November 2, 2008
Most of my lit-minded friends have heard that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein after being urged by Lord Byron to write a ghost story. Only a few, however, seem to have heard that the story's content came primarily from a lucid dream. Mary Shelley placed her head upon her pillow, "did not sleep," and saw "with shut eyes" a vision of a man creating a monster. The fact that Shelley's Frankenstein was suggested to her in a lucid dream is of special interest to me because I've been a student of dreams since I was a teenager and because it confirms for me that the images of Frankenstein come from a primordial mental zone. The story's legs were not stitched together in a self-conscious cleverness, but erupted from the grave of subconsciousness.
Stories out of dreams (out of the subconscious) tend to have a lasting impact on us. Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde supposedly came from a dream. Novelist Stephen King says he harnesses his dreams, as does the filmmaker David Lynch. Even the book of Revelations from the Christian bible—the subject of public TV night after night—can be understood as the dream of Saint John. On the island of Patmos, John talks of being "in the spirit," an experience that theists call revelation and that mystics might call astral projection, and that most modernists would call a dream.
Whether dreams are always subjective, or sometimes objective, they do influence us. Last night I had a dream I was stabbed repeatedly in the stomach by a woman I love and I awoke in a fright. The terror pumped through me for twenty minutes as I sunk back to sleep. I was bodily disturbed. And I imagine that Mary Shelley felt the same disturbance I did when the Frankenstein dream happened to her. To be sure, the reading audience over the last two centuries has been disturbed by the dream—otherwise the book would be forgotten. But why does it scare us?
Frankenstein scares us because it shows us how brilliant our minds are and how dull are our hearts. Frankenstein scares us exactly as the atom bomb scares us. Frankenstein shows us a man with a piercing intellectual intelligence that, somehow, cannot see past appearances. The story threatens us with the shadow of our own greatness.
Without a doubt, Frankenstein is a timely tale given the advances in genetics. In 1818, when Shelley wrote the novel, beings born in laboratories were pure science fiction. In 2008, it's a reality. Within our lifetimes, a designer race of humans could be born: humans who are— like Shelley's monster—of gigantic stature, impervious to the cold, and have sharper senses. We may never build such creatures, but we are definitely capable of doing so. Being a fan of Frankenstein, the question that follows on that realization, isn't "Should we?" but "Well, if we do, will we be able to relate to them?"
And yet Frankenstein need not be taken literally. By 2050 we might be capable of engineering minotaurs and orcs, but Shelley's monster is inner as well as outer. The monster is our shadow. So the question is also: "How do I relate to the monster inside me, the one I have created, denied and driven mad?” The monster is a metaphor for the part of ourselves we think is ugly, evil and undeserving of love.
Adapting Frankenstein for the radio was relatively easy. Firstly because radio lends itself so well to the fireside feeling that Shelley was after, and secondly because radio is a medium of imagination, which acts as a perfect complement to the subconscious elements in the story. Of course, I did shamelessly up the violence for the radio—but mostly out of necessity. On the radio, if you miss a sound effect you can wind up totally confused about what's happening, so a person can't be stabbed only once.
BLOCK 8 | February 20-March 8, 2009
The remainder of the season at Plan-B is also about shadows. The shadow of Block 8 is racism. The play centers on the incarceration of Japanese-Americans and immigrants during World War II. A tide of paranoia washed over the United States after December 7, 1941 and 120,000 people with the faces of the enemy were locked up. The fear, unfortunately, was totally out of touch with reality: no Japanese-American or immigrant was ever convicted of espionage. The fear was only a projection of America's shadow. By fighting the Nazis we began to be them. Of course, they needed to be fought. As a play, Block 8 tries to be honest about the feelings surrounding the interment from an Asian and Caucasian perspective.
DI ESPERIENZA | April 3-19, 2009
The shadow of Di Esperienza is the myth of Leonardo da Vinci. I call the myth a shadow because while the image of the Renaissance Man inspires us, it also holds us back. By believing in preternaturally gifted genius, we fail to see how hard Leonardo worked. We fail to see that he failed, again and again. He wrote in his notebooks, "As a kingdom divided among itself is destroyed, so a mind divided among different studies." Of course there's no denying that Leonardo is a genius and uncannily accomplished, but as I studied the notebooks, I began feeling like he was sometimes the whipping boy of a burning perfectionism. Then I saw a trail of unfinished art projects. The notebooks are definitely dotted with joy, but an unfulfillment is palpable in them too. I wrote a play that busts the myth of a demigod Leonardo and show us that he was a man: a man of ups and downs and a man of both good bad ideas. At times happy, but like all of us, not 100% sure of who he really is, and who is pursued by the shadow that says "you aren't good enough."
Tickets are $20 ($10 students with valid ID) to all shows and are available at planbtheatre.org or 355-ARTS. All performances in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 West 300 South, in downtown SLC.