TheatreVCU explores Frankenstein and the woman who wrote it


Amelia Heymann
Contributing Writer

“Frankenstein: Dawn of a Monster” is an original production by David Toney, an assistant professor of acting and directing in the VCU theater department. Photo by Mary Lee Clark

In the middle of a laboratory, a white sheet covers a body stitched together from multiple corpses. An estranged scientist stares over them, hoping to gain the power of immortality through these lifeless limbs.

While the story of “Frankenstein” is famous, the life of Mary Shelley, the author of the classic novel, is less well-known. TheatreVCU attempts to capture the life of Shelley alongside the plot of her book to reveal more insight into its creation in their upcoming production, “Frankenstein: Dawn of a Monster.”

“Frankenstein: Dawn of a Monster” is an original production by David Toney, an assistant professor of acting and directing in the VCU theater department. The play itself is about Shelley’s life and how it affected her writing.

Tyler McAnney, a freshman who was cast as the part of Lord Byron in the play, said Toney originally cast the production based off the rough draft of his play, but Toney let it run from there.

While the play has scenes from the book in it, it’s more about Shelley’s story. McAnney said the play itself takes place in two different worlds, the world of fiction in the book “Frankenstein,” and the world of reality which is Shelley’s life.

“The two worlds intermingle, and go to show just how Mary Shelley actually developed the book of Frankenstein,” McAnney said.

Grenville Burgess, the scenic set designer for the play and a first-year MFA candidate, said one of the ways the two different worlds are being conveyed on set is through the use of color. He said while some scenes have a lot of color, others lack color to convey the unromantic and harsh reality we sometimes face.

Burgess said working with a new and changing play has been like a double-edged sword. While he said he has a lot of freedom to do whatever he wants, there’s also the issue of having no contextual background to look at how things are done.

“I’ve had to be open and willing to embrace the changes,” Burgess said. “We’re revising until the opening.”

McAnney also said that Toney gave the actors the reins and let them take the characters in a new direction than what Toney had originally intended. McAnney said rather than turning the actors around, Toney would push them further.

Annabelle Bradstreet, a junior at VCU playing the bride of the monster, said she loved working on the play because everyone is so dedicated at the rehearsals, and both Toney and David Leon, the theater chair for the school of the arts, are “brilliant.”

“I’ve been in school with these people for years now, and I’ve seen them work,” Bradstreet said. “This is definitely some of the best work I’ve seen any of them really do.”

The character McAnney portrays, Lord Byron, exists in the reality world of the play, and was the main antagonist of Shelley’s life. Byron was known for being a famous poet but was always “sickly,” and it was rumored that Byron would drink out of a human skull at parties.

“He’s really not the best of guys,” McAnney said.

A conflict he provides in the play is that he not only sleeps around with prostitutes, but also Mary Shelley’s husband, Perry Shelley. While Byron slept with both men and women, McAnney said it’s hard to say what Byron’s sexuality was.

“I think more so (sex) was about the power struggle,” McAnney said. “He got his thrill out of it whether it be about man, woman or child. He’s a very dark character and he did very dark things both in real life and in the play.”

McAnney said the conflict that Byron causes in Shelley’s life helped to shape the outcome of the ending of the book “Frankenstein.”

Bradstreet said her character, the bride of the monster, also ties into Shelley’s life. The character was originally going to be played by the actress portraying Mary Shelley, which reflects the idea that Shelley became attached or connected to the personal monster in her life that she created.

One of the main themes of the play is love. McAnney said it’s not just about the happiness that is experienced in love, but also the sadness, anger and every other emotion.

“It’s more about how love can push you to extremes you never imagined you could go to,” McAnney said.

Bradstreet said this is her favorite production she’s worked on so far because it is tied to human desire of wanting love and the obstacles in life that make it difficult to obtain.

“It becomes this really complex thing which sort of always happens,” Bradstreet said. “What I love about the show is that it says all the things you don’t ever actually get to say.”

“Frankenstein: Dawn of a Monster” will be running from April 10-26. Tickets can be purchased online at for $10 with a valid VCU ID.

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