A Nightmare Hiding in Plain Sight: HP Lovecraft in Hollywood for Halloween
Most people’s knowledge of American horror has a huge gap, one that runs between Edgar Allan Poe in the 1840s and Stephen King in the 1970s. In between them another giant of the genre toiled: H.P. Lovecraft. A writer for the pulps of the early 20th century, Lovecraft only achieved fame and a reputation as a master of his genre posthumously. The Halloween season creates an ideal opportunity for rediscovering his work. This Visceral Company obliges in excellent fashion with H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. Utilizing the format of a one-man show, writer-performer Frank Blocker finds creeping dread in a descent into madness.
Suffering throughout his short life from psychosomatic illnesses, Howard Phillips Lovecraft became a reclusive night owl, Lovecraft wrote nightmare fiction that drew upon his night terrors. The result relied on psychological fears rather than physical monsters. Although his fiction became celebrated, Lovecraft could not make a living from it during his lifetime, dying in 1937 as he was almost through burning through an inheritance.
The play displays its author’s fascination with guilt, forbidden knowledge, fate and inhuman threats to civilization. A man examines the papers of his uncle, a famed archaeologist. From them he finds a dangerous cult and a strange deity. Over the course of 75 minutes we hear from other witnesses to this horror, including a New Orleans detective, a Norwegian sailor and his wife, all bound together in a horror that spreads across decades. In their descriptions of the alien god/monster Cthulhu we glimpse a future of doom for mankind. Will its arrival portend apocalypse for humanity? Or is our narrator delusional?
As a one-man show, this play demands a strong performance from its star. An experienced off-Broadway playwright as well as an actor, Frank Blocker succeeds in modulating his performance to create the illusion of a variety of characters. Originally intending to write parts for a cast of nine, he realized that the effect would be a succession of monologues, thus undercutting the drama. As a result, he made the decision to perform it alone. This choice captures the growing foreboding of Lovecraft’s work while keeping it from being just a bunch of talking heads.
A small neighborhood theater provides the unlikely venue for this doomed world. The Lex Theatre in Hollywood, a tiny stage, looks as minimal as the cast at the outset. For the most part, the stage resembles a basement full of office boxes and crates of documents. It is in the wisdom (or great good luck) of the company that this provides the perfect set for Lovecraft’s vision of horror in the mundane. The result is a one-of-a-kind way to celebrate Halloween while enjoying a good scare.
The Visceral company presents “H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu” at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood. Now through December 7, 2014. Don’t wait too late for your Halloween scare.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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