Directed by Dan Bianchi
Produced by Radio Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Radio Play
Runs through 10.11.15
Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street
by Sarah Weber on 10.8.15
Frank Zilinyi and Joshua Nicholson in The 7th Annual H.P. Lovecraft Festival.
BOTTOM LINE: Lovecraft’s famous stories are brought to life with only a few basic necessities: actors, sound effects, and a fog machine.
For seven years Radio Theatre has helped satisfy our yearly craving for horror with the H.P. Lovecraft Festival. In his lifetime (1890-1937) Lovecraft’s eerie stories never garnered much fame, earning him meager pay as a result. But throughout the decades Lovecraft’s work is published regularly along with countless radio and film adaptations. Radio Theatre has adapted the cannon for stage, but their emphasis on sound and language adds a certain intrigue that would otherwise be missed in other mediums.
Each story is presented with simple requirements: three actors, music stands, effective light and sound design, and a fog machine. These stories are not bedecked or bedazzled with intricate choreography or special stage effects—this festival is simply a cast of engrossing storytellers and the eerie words of our beloved Lovecraft.
The evening I attended began with He, which follows the lonely Howard (Patrick Alberty). In search for a reason to stay in the overly posh New York City, Howard spends his nights roaming the historic streets of Greenwich Village. One night, however, a man far older than he seems (David Neilsen) guides Howard on a walk that will forever haunt his sanity.
Next was Hypnos, set in an asylum where a woman (Chloe Lewis) recounts her relationship with a man from another dimension. With this man’s guidance (and some drugs) the woman journeys across space and time. But, it’s the moment they meet the mysterious Hypnos when the couple loses grip on their sense of reality—or has the woman always been delusional?
Then Neilsen presented my personal favorite of the evening, The Horror at Martin’s Beach. A man recounts the events leading up to a fateful night at a beachfront town. Nothing seems amiss until a deep sea beast terrorizes the locals. The story on its own is eerie, but Neilsen’s natural intonation brings out the horror in Lovecraft’s language.
To close the show Alberty, Lewis, and Neilsen tell The Curse of Yig. Alberty narrates as the nurse of an asylum. The nurse believes one of the patients is related to a couple (Lewis and Neilsen) who, very long ago, incited the rage of the ancient snake god Yig.
The H.P. Lovecraft Festival has become a yearly Halloween staple, and it’s clear why. As the festival’s director, Dan Bianchi’s bare-bones presentation exemplifies the joy of simple storytelling. Basic visual effects and Wes Shippee’s smart sound design bring Lovecraft’s stories to life while freeing the audience to vividly imagine the horrors for ourselves. This is especially effective for narratives like Hypnos where Lewis is never able to fully describe what exactly Hypnos is—she can’t even give us a hint about what it may look like. Hypnos is simply an enigma from a dimension we don’t understand. Trying to offer some visual aid like a set piece or an actor in costume would have compromised Lovecraft’s original intent.
And, of course, what’s an evening of storytelling without a delightful cast of actors? Lewis, Neilsen, and Alberty not only perform their characters well, but the real treat was seeing how much fun they have on stage. Those of us who frequent the world of horror fiction share a twisted excitement over all things creepy. So, during the Halloween season especially, nothing sounds more exciting than spending an evening watching horror fans entertain fellow horror fans.
Throughout the festival, audiences will also have the chance to see Reanimator, The Horror at Red Hook, and The Call of Cthulu. If you’re an H.P. Lovecraft fanatic or you’re simply looking to get your Halloween horror fix early this month, check out what Radio Theatre has in store for you.
(The 7th Annual H.P. Lovecraft Festival plays at the Kraine Theater at 85 East 4th Street through October 11, 2015. Remaining performances are October 8th, October 9th, October 10th at 7:30; and October 11th at 5. Tickets are $20, and are available at radiotheatrenyc.com.