The fear of the unknown is the greatest fear that plagues us. This is the conceit of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and the mission statement of Molotov’s newest work, a staged adaptation of six of Lovecraft’s short stories entitled Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite. And yet, ironically enough, it is the utter lack of the unknown that makes this suite a bore.
There is no work being done in this suite of stories; instead they are presented at face value, with little to no regard for theatricality. At times indeed, the performance is closer to an audiobook than a play. Most of the stories being staged lean so heavily on their source text that it starts to crumble underneath the performance. So many scenes do little more than present the writings of Lovecraft as an extended monologue, which – as it turns out – is the quickest way to reveal how poorly these stories have aged in the past ninety or so years.
Despite its source texts’ legacies, there is nothing frightening about Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite. But that is not its cardinal sin. What makes it dull is not its lack of horror, but its inability to say anything about horror. What is it that draws us to scary stories? What is Lovecraft’s true legacy? I don’t know. After sitting through this Nightmare Suite, the only edification I received was that Lovecraft’s writing is better read than heard.
That lack of ambition – the complacency of lifeless adaptation – marks all of Nightmare Suite and really brings into question its ability to tell a story through theatre. Even if its designs undermine theatricality, with most scenes set in front of a wall hosting pedantic projections that serve as the location of the action. Perhaps a solution for telling grand stories in a small space, but in many ways it feels more like a cop out.
LOVECRAFT: The Nightmare Suite
October 15 – November 8
as DC Arts Center
2438 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
1 hour, 5 minutes with no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
These projections were inescapable, and they led to a moment of unwitting revelation. Early on in an adaptation of “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” the occultist Harley Warren (played charmingly well by Elliot Kashner, I should add) surveys the vast graveyard that he walks through. Which of course means staring at the lifeless projection that rests behind him. And in so doing, he blocks the light coming out of the projector and casts a shadow on the screen. What’s left is not a character looking out into the distance, but an actor staring into his own, blank shadow. That is Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite summed up into a single image. Staring into a shadow of Lovecraft – with little self-awareness and decidedly no substance.
Lovercraft: Nightmare Suite by Dan Spurgeon adapted from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Directed by Jay D Brock . Featuring Alex Zavistovich, Brian McDermott, Elliott Kashner, Elizabeth Darby, and Jennifer Restak . Set Design and Projections: Rachel Wallace . Lighting Design: Leigh A Mumford . Costume Design: Jesse Shipley . Sound Design/Composer: Gregory Thomas Martin . Makeup Design: Elena Porres . Properties/Production Manager: Katherine Offutt . Stage Manager: Sara K Smith . Produced by Molotov Theatre Group. Reviewed by Sean Craig.