The image of a 9-months-pregnant woman stripping onstage, shrouded in light, revealing a huge belly smeared with red glitter and decorated with flowers like a triumphant Christmas tree—it's an image that will stick with you.
If you saw Frankenstein: A Cabaret will at the Fertile Ground Festival, you probably remember that. Laura Dunn's avant-garde burlesque variety show turns Mary Gothic novel on its monster-green head, exploring women's suppressed desires, sexual liberation and rape culture. A dark folk band provides the eerie soundtrack, anchored by a theremin, an other-worldly instrument on which the musician's oscillating hands play force fields rather than touch keys or strings.
Over the past six months, Dunn and the production crew have been reworking the play, in which she stars as Shelley. In that time, two other events rocked Dunn's world: She became a mother, and Stanford swimmer Brock Turner's light sentence for rape shocked the world.
"When I was pregnant, I was asked over and over, 'How are you going to keep writing and performing?' and I was told things will be really different. Things will change," she says. "It was as if because my body was being creative, there wasn't space for my mind anymore. It felt really parallel to the idea of female sexual desire."
Having a baby has not stopped Dunn from creating. Instead, it's inspired her to collaborate with like-minded women, and now the play's entire production crew is made up of women.
"It's a show specifically about a female-identifying experience, so we wanted a space where people who have that experience could give a voice and try art they've never done before in a professional setting," she says. "The tech aspect especially so often gets filled with men."
When the Brock Turner rape case hit the news, Dunn felt compelled to incorporate it into the play. "Hearing the victim's statement changed things for me," she says. Frankenstein: A Cabaret gives voice to female experiences, with recordings of women talking about their experiences in patriarchal culture blaring through the dark theater as the show begins.
This fall's updated Cabaret adds one notable, male voice to the soundtrack. "We added [Turner's] father's quote about calling it '20 minutes of action,'" she says. "This phrase electrocutes me with anger."
Frankenstein: A Cabaret is at Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 503-238‑5588. 8 pm Wednesday-Thursday and Saturday, 10 pm Friday and 2 pm Sunday, Sept. 28-Oct. 2. $20.