"THE YELLOW LEAF," through Jan. 24, Simmons Pioneer Theatre Company, U., (801-581-6961); running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission).
In researching last week's preview piece for the world premiere of "The Yellow Leaf," by Charles Morey, which opened Friday at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, I became fairly fascinated with the premise: Some of the greatest literary minds of their time, thrown together in the summer of 1816. Poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley and writer Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley).
The threesome was joined by Byron's doctor, John Polidori (who would write "The Vampyre") and Mary's step-sister, Claire Clairmont.
Because of bad weather, they were trapped inside with nothing to do but entertain each other. Through their discourse on science, the story of "Frankenstein" emerges.
When you think about who these people were, the premise is intriguing. I imagine for Morey, who has spent years toying with the idea and months or more in ardent research, the layers upon layers of information are all too good to pass up.
Which, perhaps, is what makes "The Yellow Leaf" seem a little daunting.
The play covers not just the summer the five whiled away the hours together, but it frequently flashes forward to conversations in the future. The flash-forwards are more frequent in the second act, leaving it feeling a bit disjointed.
Though the cast was very good across the board, the fast-paced, antiquated dialogue and accents left for more than a few missed lines. And, in a play that's essentially people sitting in a parlor talking, that gets frustrating.
The cast does a great job making the dialogue more animated. Bjorn Thorstad as Lord Byron had an unenviable amount of lines to learn and delivered them with a nice swagger, true to the stature that Byron had in his day. Although, the script could have done a better job of addressing why he was limping (unless I missed that part).
Turns out, Byron was born with a "lame leg from birth," something he seemed to have a good sense of humor about.
The rest of the ensemble was equally talented, a solid mix of equity players: Ellen Adair as the soft-spoken, kind-hearted Mary Shelley; Christopher Kelly as the boyish and honorable Percy Shelley; Lena Hurt as the slightly frantic troublemaker Claire Clairmont; and Giorgio Litt, the clumsy outcast Polidori.
I found the dream scene to be a bit disappointing. In Act II, Mary Shelley finally has the dream that is to become the iconic tale of "Frankenstein," but it was sandwiched between flash-forwards, and the scene took place upstage a bit, leaving this moment a bit removed and anti-climatic.
As usual, the PTC production values are outstanding. James Wolk's set; Pamela Scofield's costumes; Thomas J. Munn's lighting; and Joe Payne's sound design are all to be commended.
Morey has introduced such a fascinating time and situation in literary history. Afterward, I heard more than one person saying they were planning on reading some Byron or doing a bit of research on their own.
If you go see "The Yellow Leaf," take the time to read the dramaturgical notes the theater provides at www.pioneertheatre.org. The more familiar you are with the characters and their lives, the more interesting the play will be.
Sensitivity rating: Strong language, including one use of the "F-word" and dialogue referencing various love affairs.
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