Wicked Lit 2016

by Harker Jones

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 4, 2016

Dustin Hess in 'From Beyond'
Dustin Hess in 'From Beyond'  

Now in its eighth season, "Wicked Lit" has become a SoCal Halloween tradition. Taking theater out of the theater and into a cemetery and mausoleum, patrons walk through the graveyard and among the tombs while actors bring to life stories of madness, mischief, and mayhem. And it's the perfect hoot for Halloween.

This year, the troupe is performing an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "From Beyond"; an adaptation of Ellen Glasgow's gothic short story "The Shadowy Third"; and a dark adventure inspired by West African folklore. Each is so different it's difficult to compare, though the intensity of "The Shadowy Third," adapted by Paul Millet and directed by Bruce Gray, is hard to shake off.

It tells the story of a fresh-out-of-school nurse (Brooke Clendenen) visiting a renowned doctor (Michael Perl) whose wife, Charlotte (Hannah Whiteoak), appears to be losing her mind. The claustrophobic and shadowy mausoleum adds to the sense of percolating madness, and Whiteoak gives a superb performance. You can see her Charlotte slowly crumbling to both paranoia and fear without going over the top, which is a crutch on which many actors would lean.

In "From Beyond," adapted by Trey Nichols from Lovecraft's short story of the same name and directed by Jeff G. Rack, Dr. Howard Phillips (Eric Keitel) has to battle a former friend and coworker (Dusty Hess) who has created a machine that affects a person's pineal gland, allowing him or her to see different planes of existence. The effects are surprisingly effective, and, again, the mausoleum adds an extra frisson of tension. The two main actors are very strong, and the action is intense.

"Anansi and the Demons," adapted by Jonathan Josephson and directed by Jaime Robledo, takes place in the actual cemetery. You'll find yourself walking over graves as the dark plot of African villagers and white colonials plays out. Anansi is a trickster, closely associated with spiders, so when the Ashanti are starving, and it's time to wake the demons, the colonialists are ill-prepared for the fallout.

You'd be forgiven if you thought the production might rest on its laurels because the setting itself can do much of the heavy lifting, but the writing and the acting are top-notch. Pulling from classic stories, the adaptations have fantastic source material (prior productions included works from Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving and many other iconic writers) and the authors do incredible work tailoring them to such a creepy setting.

Each production is fascinating and is some of the best theater I've seen in the past few months. The costumes are beautiful and clearly quality, the pacing is tight, and it's a creative way to tell stories. It's absolutely worth the drive up to Altadena, but be sure to wear comfortable shoes. There's a fair amount of walking, about 2,000 steps, including stairs, but it's nothing intense.

The theatergoers are separated into three groups, so while you see every production, you don't see it in the same order as the other groups. The show lasts close to three hours, which goes by quickly because there's almost always something happening. There's even ample, free parking!

"Wicked Lit" runs through Nov. 12 at the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery, 2300 Marengo Avenue, Altadena, CA 91001. For tickets or information, call 323-332-2065 or visit WickedLit.org.