An all-female cast portrays both male and female characters in “All Girl Frankenstein,” a play that opened Friday at the Hippodrome State Theater.
The play, based on Mary Shelley’s classic story “Frankenstein,” continues the theater’s Halloween tradition by bringing to light the feminist side of Gothic author Shelley’s life.
“It was brilliant the way these female roles were used in what was a predominantly male storyline,” said Steven Butler, the artistic director for Gainesville’s Actors’ Warehouse. “I see it as a throwback to the old days at the Hippodrome when they were known for more cutting-edge theater.”
Stephanie Lynge said her current role in the Hippodrome Acting Company’s “All Girl Frankenstein” is demanding. She has two jobs— one on stage as the ‘Mother’ and one behind the scenes as the play’s dramaturge, otherwise known as the story researcher.
Lynge is no stranger to the stage, though.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in musical theatre from Indiana University and her master’s degree from the University of Florida, Lynge took to Broadway for national tours of the productions “Mamma Mia!” and “She Loves Me.”
She said it was through rehearsals that she discovered her current character’s many layers.
“She’s not a monster,” Lynge said when describing the character she plays. “She’s a woman struggling to raise her children in what she would consider a proper way.”
UF English professor Stephanie Smith agreed. She teaches a class about Gothic novels with a feminist perspective. She also teaches courses on feminist theory and women and popular culture.
She said she believes through writing “Frankenstein,” Shelley was figuring out parts of her own life.
“She’s working out issues about parenting, about reproduction, about inequity,” Smith said. “Some people would say also differences — or perceived differences — of how we see ourselves.”
The play’s director, Lauren Warhol Caldwell, has directed the Halloween plays at the Hippodrome for several years. She directed a previous version of “Frankenstein” and said she often thought of Shelley when she was in rehearsals with the cast.
“I also do a lot of my own research,” Caldwell said. “You know, Mary Shelley was kind of this feminist way ahead of her time – an all-girl Frankenstein would make her proud.”
Smith said Shelley was raised in an environment of gender inequality and would see the play as women breaking the taboo.
“She would have found it very interesting to see women taking on men’s roles in a venue they weren’t supposed to be in, in her day.”
This version of the story came from an all-female acting company in Chicago, Illinois, called The Chicago Mammals and was adapted by a man named Bob Fisher. Caldwell said after preview shows, some patrons compared “All Girl Frankenstein” to the popular TV show “American Horror Story.” Butler, who was in attendance, agreed.
Out of more than 200 scripts considered for this year’s eight-show season at the Hippodrome, this one stood out to Caldwell because she said she could put her own stamp on it.
The script was the only thing they had to start with, and the cast and producing crew filled in all of the details to fit Caldwell and the Hippodrome’s style.
“It was challenging, and I like to be challenged,” she said.
Caldwell said she was curious to see how the tone of the play would be different with women playing both female and males roles together. In the end, she said it didn’t matter.
“It vaporized to me that they were women because we were just focused on telling the story,” she said.
Caldwell described the show as “tension filled” and said she wants the audience members to have diversified feelings about it.
“It’s just kind of what we live for, as an artist, as a director,” she said.
The play will run until Nov. 8.