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Jason Olson, Deseret News
From left to right, Lena Hunt as Claire Clairmont, Giorgio Litt as Polidori, Bjorn Thorstad as Lord Byron, Ellen Adair as Mary Shelley and Christopher Kelly as Percy Shelley in PTC's production of "The Yellow Leaf."

In 1816, the world experienced the "year without a summer."

The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the year before made for a dark and dreary summer – too cold for outdoor fun.

So, people moved inside to while away the endless rainy days.

And that is where "The Yellow Leaf" begins.

Cooped up at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland were three of the great literary figures: poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, and Shelley's wife, Mary.

Also at the lake were Mary's sister, Claire, and Bryon's physician, John Polidori.

As Pioneer Theatre Company gets set to open the world premiere of the historical play, Charles Morey, artistic director of PTC, dons a different hat, this time as playwright.

"The first thing that attracted me to the story was the sensational nature of it. It's almost like a soap opera," Morey said, explaining that the idea had been in the back of his head for 20 years.

"Lord Byron, at that time, was certainly one of the most famous people in the entire world, perhaps only behind Napoleon.

"Here he is embroiled in all these sexual scandals and these intertwined relationships. Then you add the incredible works of Gothic fiction and poetry that came out of this very short time, and there's something very juicy there."

Those Gothic works were Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and Polidori's "The Vampyre," which would be the precursor to "Dracula" and the whole vampire genre.

"Byron had challenged everyone to write a ghost story," said Morey, "and, at only 18, I should add, Mary Shelley wrote 'Frankenstein.' "

"This had been intriguing me for a long time, but I never did anything about it," said Morey, who has written two other plays as well as numerous adaptations/translations.

"I finally just thought, 'If I'm ever going to write this, I need to do it.' I began researching seriously, and I applied for a fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, and much to my surprise, they chose me."

Designed as a small community offering artists a private space – and peace and quiet – to work on their craft, the MacDowell Colony gave Morey eight months, "which put my research into overdrive."

"In 2006, I found myself in the same studio in which Thornton Wilder had written 'Our Town' and Leonard Bernstein had written his third symphony.

"I was so intimidated when I learned that, I didn't think I could write one word. But six weeks later, I had the first draft of this play."

Geoffrey Sherman who is directing the play, joked that "if Chuck and I hadn't known each other for the past 35 years or so, then I'm not sure I would have taken this job."

"This is a different experience. … It's the first time I've worked with a playwright who is also the artistic director of the theater," Sherman said.

"But really, because we know each other and our styles are similar, we've had no trouble just saying when something needs changing. The cast has been remarkable, and it's a thrill for both the most established audiences as well as any young people to see how 'Frankenstein' came about.

"That's one of the divine forces — how and why did this young woman come up with the myth that is still around," Sherman said. "It's a play about the creation of great art in the most unlikely circumstances.

"It's a celebration of youth and indiscretion."

And it's a tale that Morey hopes will be moving and entertaining.

"The story of these incredible human beings – their stories are funny, and very touching, and ultimately they're bittersweet. It's about how lives can change forever based on decisions made in 30 seconds time."

If you g

What: "The Yellow Leaf," Pioneer Theatre Company

Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theater, University of Utah

When: Jan. 9-24, times vary

How much: $22-$40

Phone: 581-6961

Web: www.pioneertheatre.org

E-mail: ehansen@desnews.com