Review: ‘Monsters of the Villa Diodati’ at Creative Cauldron

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In the second installment of Creative Cauldron’s initiative, “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages”, the ingenious duo of Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith has turned out a mesmerizing new musical, Monsters of the Villa Diodati.

Catherine Purcell, Alan Naylor, and Susan Derry. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

Catherine Purcell, Alan Naylor, and Susan Derry. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

Conner and Smith delve into the details of an intimate meeting with some of the most artistic minds of the 19th century. From this historic encounter, Conner (music and lyrics) and Smith (book and lyrics) created a world premiere musical that takes the audience through a remarkable tale of love, lust, frustration, and inspiration.

The story’s source is a documented account of the summer of 1816 when, due to unseasonable storms, a party of five was kept indoors for three days at Lord Byron’s Villa Diodati. Sam Ludwig plays the illustrious Lord Byron, who was joined by 4 guests: his physician John Polidori (David Landstrom), Percy Shelley (Alan Naylor), Mary Shelley (Susan Derry), and Mary’s step-sister Claire (Catherine Purcell).

The cast is outstanding and effortlessly sweeps you into their world at this famous instance in literary history. Ludwig’s Byron is commanding and self-serving, yet possesses the ability to charm and seduce at his whim. There is no question as to who is running the party and Ludwig manages to infuse Byron’s cold indifference with a sexual allure that is intoxicating to watch.

Landstrom‘s Palidori is perhaps the worst off for Byron’s manipulations. Byron treats his physician as a valued companion one moment and then with annoyed disdain the next. Landstrom illustrates Palidori’s torment and his song, “Directions for John,” is an incredibly charged number that he delivers with beautiful intensity.

With musical direction by Warren Freeman, the music and lyrics of Conner and Smith carry a strength and passion that constantly weaves the characters in and out of each other throughout the show, as repeatedly shown by the lovely Susan Derry. Derry’s Mary Shelley is clever and engaging, and sets the bar high right at the start of the show with a vocally luscious “Pieces of You.”

Alan Naylor plays Percy Shelley with an endearing naiveté, all the while maintaining his pride and masculinity. Naylor gorgeously sings “Julian and Maddolo” to Lord Byron and further expresses the overriding sensual energy of the show that seems to complicate each character’s identification of themselves and their own intentions.

Purcell, as Claire, is a woman on a mission. She is forward and forceful in her pursuit of Lord Byron and her desire for love colors her acting and her voice with passion. Purcell is at her best in the moving “Soul Meets Soul.”

 Susan Derry, Catherine Purcell, David Landstrom, Alan Naylor, and Sam Ludwig. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

Susan Derry, Catherine Purcell, David Landstrom, Alan Naylor, and Sam Ludwig. Photo by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

There are a million different moments that are mentionable and the ensemble number “What Now What Next” is just one of the many moving and meaningful pieces that demonstrate what a solid production Monsters is.

The set was incredibly simple yet sophisticated. With scenic design by Margie Jervis, lighting design by Lynn Joslin, and costume design by Alison Johnson, the brilliant Design Team made a space that seamlessly moved from scene to scene with subtle changes and the cunning use of lighting and costumes.

Creative Cauldron’s “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages” world premiere musical, Monsters of the Villa Diodati, is an irrefutable success  The material that the show’s creators, Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, have used is remarkably fascinating and offers a fantastic view into a momentous part of history where two of literature’s most famous monsters were born.

Monsters of the Villa Diodati delivers a powerful spark to all of the senses, leaving behind a subtle reminder of the potential monsters within us all. Do not miss it!

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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Monsters of the Villa Diodati plays through February 21, 2016 at Creative Cauldron – 410 South Maple Avenue, Suite 116, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call (703) 436 – 9948, or purchase them online.

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