H.P.Lovecraft's Pickman's Model, Adapted by Vincent Kovar, John McKenna, Dustin Engstrom, and Ron Sandahl, Peon Circle Theater. through Nov. 13, 2010.
Dying=easy. Comedy=hard. Horror=Really tough in live theater.
Horror lurks best in the mind, so its champion media is the printed page, equaled perhaps by the glory days of radio, when the eldritch horrors are conjured in the mind. Even movie-making, whether it is the shadow of the knife or the Grand Guignol, has more tools available to it to chill the blood and disturb the soul. Live theater, in particular small live theater like the Open Circle, now in Belltown, has a greater challenge. Yet every Halloween they unearth Lovecraft's cadaver and make the bloody best of the media.
Pickman's Model is a mash-up of the title piece, broken into two acts and adapted to Seattle, and The Music of Erich Zann which is played pretty straight and inserted into Act One as a piece of performance art. The construction is by a small horde of adapters, and does not hang together as neatly as one would like. There is info about the connection the Malicious Dr. Reid and the artist Pickman in the first act that is forgotten in the second, and the Malicious Dr. R starts promising and villainous in the first act but recedes to an afterthought in the second.
Let me back up to the main frame of this picture. Act One is a gallery opening for Richard Upton Pickman's latest work, and while attempting to present a backstage look at a gallery show gives us a bit of a jumble. The proceedings include a dance performance of Music which really works in and of itself, though attempts to link the music and the paintings are a bit strained. The latest portrait is revealed (all pictures are blank canvases to us, a very good move as we fill in the unpleasant details), and everything goes to hell. Pickman's former artistic agent Thurber (Marianna De Fazio) and news photog Eliot (Kenna Kettrick) decide to go off and confront Pickman about what he's really up to.
Act II is that confrontation, with Simon Astor creating an amused, definitely plummy Pickman, too clever for his own good and delighted by the chaos he creates. Many hints are dropped, and the history of Seattle's Underground is rewritten to good effect, before the nasty devils below come to take their due, leaving the protagonists slamming around in the dark for a while, firing off camera flashes, while we the audience, are led to imagine the worse. It goes on for a bit too long, and I seemed to be always facing the flash when it went off.
Act II holds together much better than Act I, and shifting two of the protagonists to female characters works nicely, and it made the old story set in the East quite at home on the west coast. Lacking the mighty special effects of a Seattle Rep, the small theater does its best with blank paintings (good), flash cameras in the dark (irritating and silly in places) and unearthly tones (which went from irritating to creepy and back to irritating). The connection between Zahn's music and Pickman's paintings through the lizard-brain is well-researched, but still feels tenuous, a ghost that vaporizes if considered too long.
Adaptions do not need to lockstep into their original forms, and this one actually manages to deliver both straight and evolved versions of Lovecraft's tales. Worth checking out, even if we are past the due-date on that Halloween pumpkin.
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