Entertainment » Theatre

Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite

by Brenna Smith
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 8, 2013
Maya Eshet (left) and Steve Peterson (silhouette) in ’The Outsider’ in ’Lovecraft Nightmare Suite’
Maya Eshet (left) and Steve Peterson (silhouette) in ’The Outsider’ in ’Lovecraft Nightmare Suite’  (Source: Jeremy Andorfer)

October is the month for all things spooky and macabre, and who better to put on a show dedicated to one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century than the local horror-dedicated Visceral Company?

Their "Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite," a reinvention of a play the founders put on years ago in a small off-Off Broadway theatre brings the beautifully creepy stories of cosmic horror visionary H.P. Lovecraft to life in a way their previous budget could not. Now with enough funding to realize their vision, "Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite" is a fun and imaginative night of theatre perfect for getting in the Halloween mood.

The production tells six Lovecraft short stories, predominately in monologue form (as Lovecraft's stories are mostly narratives in the first-person), interspersed with short poems to allow for set and costume changes, and to break up the monotony of monologuing. Though his narrators are often assumed to be male, the decision to cast women in certain roles added new perspective to old stories.

The evening began with H.P. Lovecraft himself setting the mood for the evening, and flowed into a diverse sampling of Lovecraftian horror, starting with his iconic cosmic horrors in "The Statement of Randolph Carter," followed by brilliant puppetry in "The Cats of Ulthar," then the hauntingly beautiful "The Outsider," the murderously morbid "The Picture in the House," the creepily romantic "Cool Air" and finally, the manifestation of one of the outer gods, (because you can't have a Lovecraft night without his brilliant pantheon) "Nyarlathotep."

Eric Sand's Howard Phillips (the H.P. in H.P. Lovecraft) brilliantly channeled both in appearance and demeanor what we'd expect from the master of horror himself, bookending the production, starting sane and ending mad.

Andrew Bourgeois played Randolph in "The Statement of Randolph Carter," and his frantic portrayal of the man who watched his employer descend to his doom in a dank sepulcher brought to life the cosmic horrors that were occurring just off stage.

Eric Sand’s Howard Phillips (the H.P. in H.P. Lovecraft) brilliantly channeled both in appearance and demeanor what we’d expect from the master of horror himself, bookending the production, starting sane and ending mad.

"The Cats of Ulthar" was narrated by the almost too over the top Egyptian queen-like Devereau Chumrau as the rest of the cast animated her story with the use of puppets. There was no attempt made to hide the puppeteers, and there was none needed as the expressions on their faces were as precious as their puppets.

While the protagonist of "The Picture in the House" was most definitely Mark Souza's timid Miskatonic University student, the star was Steve Peterson's disgusting cannibal with his borderline hackneyed accent that managed to be entirely appropriate for the piece.

Finally, the uniquely beautiful Maya Eshet in "The Outsider" stole the night, both as the most mesmerizing scene and most fascinating short story. Eshet's performance as a lost, lonely soul seeking companionship was nuanced and powerful, and not even the cheesy shadow monster at the end could take anything away from it.

While there were no bad performances, they were all outshined by the most important part of this production: the lighting (or lack thereof). Dave Sousa's light design, which has previously received an LA Weekly Award nomination, was absolutely brilliant in its absence. Darkness was as much a member of the cast as the actors, and the light that was wielded was done so sparsely and as needed. "The Picture in the House" was done in almost complete darkness, the stage lit only with a prop candle (enhanced with low flood lighting) and flashes of lightning.

John Burton's set and puppet design was lovely as well, making full use of the tiny black box theatre. His stage allowed for the actors to appear suddenly with numerous hidden entrances, and his puppets, reminiscent of "Mirrormask" and the Podlings from "The Dark Crystal," were adorably creepy.

Of course, the important question is: "is it scary?" Unfortunately, I'm the wrong person to ask since I haven't had a good jump since I saw the twister in "The Wizard of Oz" when I was five. I would say it's less scary and more creepy. Even though the shadow play can sometimes fall flat (apart from the fantastic use of it in "Cool Air"), "Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite" is just good, eerie Halloween fun.

"Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite" runs through Nov. 3 at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave, in Hollywood. For information or tickets, call 323-871-1150 or visit www.thevisceralcompany.com.

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