Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Monday night, I went to a reading at the historic St. Peter's Church in Chelsea of the new play called MONSTERS SPEAK. The piece is a series of monologues written by William Henry Koch, Jr. re-imagining some of the most famous creatures of stage and film.

The first monologue, performed by Ryan Hilliard, portrayed Doctor Frankenstein's monster, and it was quite comic in tone. The nameless creature, wittily self-aware, made numerous references not just to Mary Shelley's classic novel Frankenstein, but to the James Whale film adaptations as well.

The first adaptation of Frankenstein was Richard Brinsley Peake's 1823 melodrama Presumption. Though the play had comic moments, it was meant for the most part to be taken seriously. Later that year, however, Peake wrote a second play, Another Piece of Presumption, which begins in a theatre with the playwright Dramaticus Devildom endeavoring to get his play staged. Devildom's play, it so happens, is essentially a comedic version of Peake's last play, with the main character's name changed to "Frankenstich" and Devildom commenting on the story throughout the action.

Koch's monologue, then, is a part of a long history of Frankenstein adaptations, which have over and over again revisited older material from a new and often campy perspective. James Whale, after all, followed up his 1931 film version of Frankenstein with The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935, and arguably one of the best adaptations of the story is Mel Brooks's comic send-up Young Frankenstein, which later returned the story to the stage as a Broadway musical. Peake would have been unsurprised.

The second monologue of the evening portrayed Kharis, the title character in the Universal Pictures Mummy series. In Karl Freund's original 1932 film, the mummy's name is Imhotep, but in a series of follow-up films his name became Kharis. His goal was the same, however: to bring back to life the woman he loved.

Damien Mosco performed the monologue, which was serious and brooding, rather than comic. Unlike the story of Frankenstein's monster, the tale of the mummy originated as a film, though mummies have appeared on stage from time to time. Charles Ludlam's The Mystery of Irma Vep, for instance, contains a memorable Egyptian sequence with a mummy.

Koch performed the final monologue himself, taking on the persona of Quasimodo from Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He portrayed Quasimodo in the tomb with the body of Esmeralda, the two finally united if not in love, in death. During a talkback after the reading, Koch said that of all the numerous adaptations of the novel, he could not think of a single one that kept the book's original ending.

A number of years ago, I did see a puppet version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame that ended in Quasimodo's skeleton clutching the skeleton of Esmeralda in the tomb, but by in large, Koch is right. Even Victor Hugo didn't keep Victor Hugo's ending when he wrote a stage adaptation of the novel called Esmeralda (though he did keep multiple deaths).

MONSTERS SPEAK was a delightfully spooky lead-up to Halloween. Wishing everyone many more merry monsters as we experience the creepiest time of the year!