The Horror in the Theater: an H.P. Lovecraft Triptych of Terror, Open Circle Theater, Seattle, Washington, USA (November 7,
The other evening, I saw three Lovecraft stories adapted for the stage.
I learned a few things from the experience:
- No stage production of Lovecraft should ever take itself too seriously. This is the kiss of death.
- Puppets, however good, will never quite cut it.
They should be used sparingly and in low light, or with
full consciousness of the cheese factor, or both.
- Nobody knows what a trapezehedron looks like.
For those who don't know, Howard Phillip Lovecraft
was a gentleman from Providence, Rhode Island who wrote
some truly excellent horror in the first half of the
twentieth century. His creepy tales of Things from Beyond
the Universe, and particularly his inventive Cthulhu
Mythos stories, have influenced many writers who are
favorites here at Green Man, including Marion Zimmer
Bradley, Neil Gaiman, and Roger Zelazny.
This production had three different stories, each with
its own director, but it had one unified cast. This
actually succeeded in holding the whole thing together
nicely, despite the differences in directorial styles.
From Beyond, adapted by Lyam White, directed by Matt Fontaine
A young photographer visits a friend, a professor whom he much admires. But
young John is in for a surprise, as Crawford Tillinghast has become obsessed
with expanding the human senses past the five we have been given. John, naturally,
thinks his friend mad. Unfortunately for him, just because Tillinghast is mad
doesn't mean he's wrong.
The Hunter of the Dark, adapted and directed by Rob D'Art
During W.W.II, just as the television is introduced and Nikola Tesla announces
his death ray, a radio station owned by the widow Marsh produces "The Hunter
of the Dark," H.P. Lovecraft's final short story, as a radio play. As the writer
in the story descends into madness and is consumed by the Hunter, those who
work at the station act more and more strangely. What is the strange box brought
by sound effects man Hans Ewer? Does it actually contain the "shining trapezehedron"
of the story? What did the guests at Old Man Marsh's parties do after the party
The Dunwich Horror, adapted and directed by Ron Sandahl
Wilbur Whateley, last son of the Whately clan which
has always been steeped in the evil surrounding Dunwich,
wants the Necronomicon that is kept at Miskatonic
University. His mother Lavinia is a twisted albino,
no one knows who or what his father was, and Wilbur
himself has grown to manhood in half the time usually
required. With the incantations from the dread Book
of the Names of the Dead, he hopes to summon forth Yog
Sothoth... Who knows why?
Circle Theater is a tiny little space, with
perhaps a total of fifty seats and the front row actually
sitting on the stage. The stage itself is a postage
stamp, requiring lots of creative blocking and sets.
It is very much the type of theater I've always wanted
to work in myself, as the limitations of space and budget
force everyone involved to be even more creative to
make up for it.
You might say that the qualities of the show as a
whole could be boiled down to the Good,
the Bad, and the Pleasantly
Most of the acting in all three pieces. The actors didn't
take themselves too seriously, and were perfectly melodramatic.
Exactly right for Lovecraft. The only place where some
of the acting seemed a bit off was in "From Beyond"
(see below), which I believe was due to the director,
as the same actors did very well in both of the other
The Hunter of the Dark. Rob D'Art realized that
his chosen Lovecraft tale would work very poorly on
stage (it's written as a police report containing journal
entries), so he didn't try to present it that way. Instead,
he gave it a charming and chilling framing sequence,
loaded with details from the period that made it very
believable. (I was particularly pleased with the mention
of Tesla, an historical figure I much admire.) The station
crew's characters were well-thought-out, with the crusty
veteran newsreader and the stuck-up voice actor sniping
at one another, the young engineer bubbling with enthusiasm
and geekiness, and the sound man slapping hands away
from his precious props and producing excellent effects.
Very creepy, very funny, quite, quite good.
From Beyond. I haven't read a lot of Lovecraft,
but I do prefer the occult stuff to the mad science
stuff. If this story had been better directed, I would
have been willing to forget that, but it seemed as if
the director took it too seriously. He wanted too badly
to scare the audience - and Lovecraft just isn't terrifying
on stage. It's a psychological sort of horror. It needs
to get inside your head and crawl around, and it needs
internalized words to do that. Horror on stage or screen
is very different from horror on the page. About the
best you can hope for from Lovecraft stage productions
is mildly creepy.
The use of the puppets in From Beyond. Some of
the individual puppets were pretty good (I liked the
moth-thing), but they could've been used to much better
effect. The puppeteers should have been better covered
in black (face masks, gloves), the sticks longer, and
the lighting more tightly focused if the puppets were
going to work well.
There weren't enough tentacles in the radio gear in
Hunter. The tentacles looked good, and were operated
well, but there ought to have been more than two.
The hicks in Dunwich (which is, I believe, in Massachusetts)
all seemed to have Southern redneck accents, as if no
one knew any other hick accent.
The Pleasantly Cheesy:
The Dunwich Horror. John McKenna looked as if
he was basing his interpretation of Dr. Armitage on
the Narrator from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(which worked very well). Kate Kray as Lavinia Whately
had a wonderful hunch and an unbelievable-yet-fitting
set of false teeth. The puppets representing Dr. Armitage
and Professor Rice as they went up to confront the Horror
didn't even try to be serious, and so worked a great
deal better than the Things-from-Beyond puppets in the
first offering. The puppet for the Horror itself was
used sparing enough to be quite effective (even if it
did leave a piece of itself draped over the top of the
hill where the stones stood).
I had a marvelous time that evening, and very strange dreams that night. And,
really, what else can you ask for from Lovecraftian theater?
Dmitri Arbacauskas's extremely melodramatic introduction to the whole thing.
"Your programs, like yourselves, are recyclable. Please deposit them in the
box outside the theater door after the show."
The Open Circle Theater has a Web
These sites give more information on H.P. Lovecraft and his works: