Sunday, November 14, 2004

Play: Cthulhu Puppet Show

Theater of Horrors based on the Fantastic Works of H. P. Lovecraft, Directed by Ron Sandahl, Oct 8-Nov 13, Open Circle Theater

This was Stan!'s idea - he mentioned that a small local theater group always performed a tryptic of horror plays based on the writings of pulp writer H. P. Lovecraft each Halloween. Schedules being what they were, we attained critical mass for about ten of us to attend on closing night of the performance. The Open Circle is a hole-in-wall theater located in the soon-to-be-developed South Union area, with a small performance space for about a hundred patrons. We were not the only ones to hear of this, since the joint was packed for the final performance, such that they had to pull out folding chairs to handle the house.

Lovecraft, with his eldritch horrors, strange geometries, and terrors of the mind and soul, creates a challenge to more visual media. The creeping horror brought to life in the imagination from the printed page does not compete well with the rubber-suited monster. The Open Circle embraces the limitation with the use of puppets (with black-hooded puppeteers), coaxing humor and horror out in the process. As my wife said on the way up, "How bad can it be? It's puppets."

Actually, it was pretty good. The first play, "Nyarlathotep", was little more than a vignette - two individuals confronting a conjurer who is truly the messenger of the Elder Gods - and was stitched together from a number of Lovecraftian sources (the original source material was a three-page fragment). The puppets show up in force in "The Doom that Came to Sarnath", a narrated performance with a hooded storyteller spinning the tale of an ancient genocide and the revenge that was worked a millenium later - a solid tale in the original, Lovecraft evoking Dunsany, with a nice stinger put into place in the adaption.

But it was the third play that held together the best, because it allowed the horror to build over time. "Dreams in the Witch House" was written in "doomed-protagonist" manner that Lovecraft did so well, but comes alive on the stage through the adaptions humor and humanity - things that Lovecraft did not do well. Nerdy mathematics student Walter Gilman (Ray Tagavilla) finds a hole in the walls of the universe, and discovers the dark minions beyond. Here the mixture of humans and puppet-monstrocities come together nicely, but more importantly, the adaptation creates viable characters and allows them to develop over time, allowing the horror to rach out to audience.

All in all, it was a lot of fun - one of the better Lovecraft adaptions. In addition to Tagavilla, the other performers/puppeteers (Aaron Allshouse, Andy Justus, and John McKenna) pulled off Lovecraft without overindulging in excessively in melodrama. Yes, its been a yearly thing in the past, and I'll keep my ears open come October next year to see if they're at it again. I hope so.

More later,