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Closing This Weekend: LiveWire's Hideous Progeny

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 23, 2010 8:40PM

photo of Hilary Williams by John W. Sisson, Jr.

In the summer of 1816, guests of Lord Byron were challenged to write the scariest ghost story possible - Mary Shelley’s entry in this contest became the classic horror novel, Frankenstein, and the events leading up its creation became playwright Emily Dendinger’s Hideous Progeny. Before we go any further, a declaration of our ignorance: We (I) have never read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” nor are we too familiar with Lord Byron’s poetry. The bibliophiles and literary scholars among you will likely pick up a few references we missed, but prior knowledge isn’t required to understand the play. In fact, the show is almost overly-simplified, constraining the potential displayed in the more interesting and poetic moments.

At the most basic level, there are some pesky anachronisms, and a noticeable lack of accents - although we always prefer no accent to a bad one, so perhaps it’s for the best. The bigger issue for us, however, is a lack of subtlety in the exposition and exploration of the main themes. Struggles with bourgeois boredom, feelings of artistic inadequacy, the immortality of words and the burden of parenthood (this fact-based fiction gives Mary one infant with another on the way) range from cartoonish to poetic, but rarely feel important. Entertaining, certainly - but lacking in weight.

The major exception is Mary, smartly played by Hilary Williams. Seemingly the only level-headed member of the group, she is an excellent foil to John Taflan’s arrogant, almost fop-ish Lord Byron, and a welcome contrast to Claire (Danielle O’Farrell), a friend of the Shelleys and Byron’s lady du jour, who begins the show by throwing a temper tantrum and almost never comes down. Williams’ strong and thoughtful demeanor makes her stand out - a wise choice by director Jessica Hutchinson - and carries her through to an impressively controlled meltdown toward the show’s end.

There are other complex and solid moments throughout the show, but what strings them together doesn't measure up. Hideous Progeny has possibilities, for sure, but for us, it’s just not as rich and buoyant as it could be.

Hideous Progeny closes Sunday, DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E Randolph Street, Tickets $15-$20