Note: this article was also published on Neon Tommy.
Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, written and directed by Dan Spurgeon (based on the stories by H.P. Lovecraft); produced by The Visceral Company: seen October 5, 2013
October has rolled around once again, and with it comes the inevitable influx of costumes, haunted houses, and scary stories. Even people who would normally not consider themselves horror fans typically join in the spirit, going to events dedicated to scaring people. The Visceral Company joins in with their production of Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, a combination of six of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales interspersed with excerpts of poetry and prose.
Lovecraft is so much a part of America’s culture that it’s even used as a descriptor: to have something be Lovecraftian in nature means something of cosmic horror and a fear of the unknown. Many horror writers, from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman, readily acknowledge his influence on their own work. On top of that, many modern horror films, from the “Alien” movies to “Cabin in the Woods,” can be connected to Lovecraft’s tales. Even the world of Batman has a nod with the use of Arkham Asylum. It’s so entrenched that you could feasibly be a Lovecraft fan without having actually read any of the stories.
The space at Lex Theatre is small and intimate. A set of tools adorns the right side of the set while portraits (one of the man himself) hang on the left. The back wall is off-white, with a rock-like structure around it. As the house door closes, the closeness of the space is pregnant with possibility — the potential to be overwhelmed by noise and claustrophobia.
The six tales, however, never quite live up to that potential. Adapted and directed by Dan Spurgeon, they are tales in the true definition of the word: more narration going on than actual interaction, and the sound never quite fills the space like it could. The lighting cues seem to be a little off throughout the show, not including a slight power outage that apparently happened near the end. The excerpts used during the transitions are, for all but one, hard to hear, which make it hard to comprehend. The tech side of things seems to fall short: in the land of Hollywood, one would hope the production would use stage effects to their fullest potential.
There are some good moments: Devereau Chumrau shines in her narration of “The Cats of Ulthar,” her Egyptian-style makeup and stage presence almost upstaging the puppet and shadow play being performed. Maya Eshet’s character in “The Outsider” is also another great moment — one feels a sense of compassion for her character by the end of her tale. Nicole Fabbri, in “Cool Air,” adds to the trio of women that show there is a way to have female characters portrayed in Lovecraft competently.
Whether it’s the fact that these tales are old and therefore somewhat expected or that there seems to be only one way to portray insanity, the other tales don’t quite measure up. It’s not that this show is bad, it’s that the show could achieve so much more. While one would hope to not go mad from this production, it is maddening to see a glimpse of what could be and not quite reached.
The Visceral Company’s production of “Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite” is playing through March 2 at The Lex Theatre (6760 Lexington Ave, Los Angeles). Tickets are $23. For more information, visit The Visceral Company’s website.