Sick of this accursed heatwave? Longing for the thrills and chills of the Halloween season to commence? No need to pray to the Great Old Ones, just slither on down to the little theater on the corner of Lexington and McCadden and be indoctrinated into H.P. Lovecraft’s weird and terrifying universe. I don’t usually suggest that people run screaming towards Cthulhu, but take my advice. Get your tickets now before this wickedly delightful production sells out.
The Call of Cthulhu is the story of a New England archeologist who finds, amongst his deceased uncle’s research, evidence of an evil cult and their mysterious god who will awaken “when the stars are right.” His investigation unfolds via interviews and reports of strange events which span the globe and occur at regular intervals across decades. With its epistolary format, ever-heightening tension and fantastical elements, the story lends itself to The Visceral Company’s latest macabre production.
A good stage adaptation quickens the pace and punches up the material where necessary. Frank Blocker, who not only adapted the work but plays all nine parts, has successfully cut away the slow bits and woven in additional scenery chomping inspired by another of Lovecraft’s weird tales, The Hound. He and director/developer, Dan Spurgeon, have skillfully tweaked dialogue, fleshed out characterizations and employed dynamic stage direction and the clever use of effects (including puppetry) resulting in a roller coaster ride to doomsday that is sure to please any fan of horror or dark fantasy.
One man shows can walk a fine line between tour de force and “tour de farce”. Happily, Blocker’s performance captures the audience from the start inviting us to witness an arcane ritual that neatly foreshadows the horror awaiting the protagonist. I scarcely took my eyes off of him for the entire 75 minute performance. Warning: no intermission. So do what thou wilt before the show starts. He does an admirable job embodying all the characters: the urbane professor, a Renfield-esque artist, a slow drawling Southern detective, a Norwegian sailor and his wife and sundry demented cultists. Particularly menacing was his turn as cult member, Castro. With only one slightly questionable accent, the acting was a satisfying balance of tension, obsession, frenzy, terror and yes, humor.
I’d like to give a nod to Johnny Burton and crew regarding the evocative set and puppet design. As soon as I sat down in the cool and intimate darkness of the black box theater, I felt the atmosphere shift to something mysterious and vaguely ominous. Although subtle, the non-Euclidean arrangement of the shaker shingles that scalloped the set and the smell of old wood and mouldering books instantly invoked Lovecraft’s mythos–not to mention the magic circle placed center stage and used to great effect to advance the action. The puppetry was more hit than miss (what’s a few visible strings between friends), and like the lighting and music, enhanced rather than distracted from the narrative. But don’t expect scary: subtle shadow play and wind effects slowly build to a much anticipated reveal. Yes folks, an angry alien god does awaken and the juxtaposition of the horrific, over-the-top climax with the pure joy of puppets had me gibbering with glee!
The recent H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and other local productions based on his works attest to the fact that the popularity of “the godfather of modern horror” is alive and well in Los Angeles. Luckily, we now have a resident theater troupe specializing in horror, thriller and science fiction. If this play is any indication, The Visceral Company not only knows their genre, but also knows how to thoroughly entertain an audience. I look forward to their future “killer shows from darker places” in seasons to come.
The Visceral Company presents H.P. LOVECRAFT’S “THE CALL OF CTHULHU” at The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood, CA 90038: Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm, Sunday matinees at 3 pm through December 7, 2014. Parental guidance is recommended for young children.
Advance tickets and other forbidden knowledge available at www.thevisceralcompany.com .
Photo courtesy of The Visceral Company