The Forest Park Theatre plans to scare us by presenting the perfect spooky play, Frankenstein. A staged reading will be presented on Oct. 19, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the American Legion, 500 S. Circle. Tickets are $20 and $15 for members of the Forest Park Arts Alliance. Artistic Director Richard Corley is promising a spine-tingling evening.

It was a dark and stormy night, when Mary Shelley conceived of her hideous monster. The year was 1816, a dark time many of us can relate to. A volcanic eruption in Indonesia had shrouded the world in smoke and haze. There were widespread crop failures and a global cholera pandemic. These events inspired many writers to create their darkest works.

Shelley had written many unpublished works before vacationing in Switzerland with her husband, the poet Percy Shelley. They were joined by fellow famous scribe Lord Byron. Thunder, lightning and rain trapped the vacationers inside for days. They passed the time reading horror stories. Byron then challenged them to write a horror story scarier than the ones they had read.

During a stormy, sleepless night, Shelley conceived of a monster created by man. She wrote a terrifying tale of life after death. The novel shows what happens when men pretend they are gods. Frankenstein revolutionized literature and has been called the world’s first science fiction novel.

Rona Munro, who adapted this version of Frankenstein, knows science fiction. The Scottish writer penned many episodes for “Doctor Who.” Her adaptation shows Shelley struggling with the creation of her novel, while facing the limitations imposed on creative young women.

In keeping with this feminist theme, Frankenstein is the first production of the theater’s “Reading Series 2023, Plays by Women.” Corley estimates only 20-30% of plays are penned by women. The series will showcase five plays written by this underrepresented group. It will also provide samples of the wide-ranging themes the theater will explore.

Corley believes the themes found in Frankenstein are still relevant today. It’s about how our relationship to technology can threatens our core humanity. I know what he’s talking about. My student submitted an essay that was written at a highly professional level. I suspected plagiarism but when I tested suspicious sentences, I couldn’t uncover the source material. It was my first encounter with Artificial Intelligence. The essay was flawless but soulless. There wasn’t a trace of the student’s humanity. After that scary “AI’s alive!” moment, I had him write in the first person and express his personal feelings.

Presenting plays with contemporary themes is part of Corley’s vision. He also wants to build a “growing wave of support” for the theatre. The powerful professional performances in Measure for Measure this past summer show this theater’s potential.

Theater, though, cannot succeed without audiences. The pandemic devastated the performing arts. It particularly impacted concerts and plays. Corley hopes that, by keeping productions local and affordable, Forest Park Theatre will achieve its dream of year-round indoor productions.  

Theaters are closing because we’re all good at staying home. We work from home and students take courses from home. We have groceries and other purchases shipped to our homes. This stay-at-home attitude is destroying businesses that depend on human interaction. We’ve seen what it has done to these kind of businesses in Forest Park.

If you can’t make it to the ticketed performance at the American Legion hall, there will be a free performance of Frankenstein at the Altenheim picnic grove on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. The actors will be using flashlights to read their scripts. 

We hope it won’t be a dark and stormy night, but it will definitely be spooky. 

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.