When attending last month’s Third Annual Lovecraft Festival by Radiotheatre NYC I had wondered “Why aren’t Call of Cthulhu and Re-animator part of this?” That oversight has been corrected with an extension of the festival that puts these two Lovecraft opuses back to back in one evening of cosmic horrors beyond man’s powers to bear!
Radiotheatre performs their shows with the actors on book, using a mostly dark stage and little blocking. There are few props and little costuming. It has just enough of a visual element to make it suitable to theater, but the focus is on text, voice and sound to recreate the sense of old time radio plays.
This performance was no exception, and the evening begins with an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s best-known work, The Call of Cthulhu. This story, first published in 1928 was the inspiration for countless science-fiction and horror stories over the last century, and established the Lovecraftian notion of unfathomably evil god-like beings from space that view Humanity as nothing more than insects.
Cthulhu and the other “Great Old Ones” still have an influence humanity, and the poor unfortunates who happen to be sensitive to their cosmic energies are driven mad. This notion is still being used today in movies and video games (Notably the recent Mass Effect Trilogy).
Call of Cthlhu tells the story of a man’s investigation into a global cult, and widespread madness somehow related to a mysterious being called Cthulhu. The original story doesn’t have much dialog, so it had to be tinkered with for this stage adaptation (Written by Dan Bianchi & Directed by Frank Zilinyi). Rather than being a first person narrative filled with quotes from old documents, it takes the form of dialog between two of the characters in the story.
Frank Zilinyi and R. Patrick Alberty both give creepy Lovecraftian performances, but The Call of Cthulhu is a tricky story to adapt for the stage, and the final result wasn’t as engrossing as the prose that inspired it. It’s still a great a piece, especially for people who haven’t read the original story, but the better half of the evening is Reanimator.
Herbert West–Reanimator, is a classic zombie story that couldn’t be more timely, given the recent outbreaks of actual cannibalism possibly due to reanimated corpses.
Although the original text of Herbert West-Reanimator isn’t as well-written as The Call of Cthulhu, it is more readily adapted to the stage. Longer, and truer to the source material, Reanimator as told by Radiotheatre is one scary play.
Originally published as a six-part series of short stories in 1921, this piece long predates modern zombie fiction and established many tropes of zombie mythology. It’s about a mad scientist, Herbert West (Played by Don Puglish) who develops a formula that can bring the dead back to life!
But, of course, it takes countless failed attempts and minor successes for West to perfect the process, and he travels the world leaving behind a trail of mindless re-animated corpses that hunger for flesh. These gruesome failures and West’s slow decent into madness are all chronicled by his unnamed associate (Played by Frank Zilinyi).
As with other Radiotheatre shows, the performances are excellent. Frank Zilinyi performed in both pieces, doing a southern policeman for Cthulhu, and playing the hapless companion to Don Puglish’s eerie Herbert West.
R. Patrick Alberty was Thurston in Cthlulhu and surmounted the task of pronouncing dialog that man was not meant to speak, like “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
Sound design (By Dan Bianchi) was also exceptional, with a live sound engineer (Alex Hurst) onstage. Aside from spooky music, there were also sound effects such as when characters spoke about the terrifying Voodoo rituals they witnessed, and the sounds of screaming fanatics would slowly rise in the background.
A fog machine got appropriate use too, when great Cthulhu emerged from his sealed resting place, the actors described the stench emanating from him, and a cloud of gas filled the stage.
No prior understanding of Lovecraft is needed to enjoy the show. These are two of his classics, each a self-contained story, and this performance is an excellent primer for anyone who hasn’t read Lovecraft yet (And an even better introduction to Reanimator than the 1985 film).
The Lovecraft Festival is playing through June 23rd a second program is running through the 29th and features four other Lovecraft stories. More information can be found at www.radiotheatrenyc.com.