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Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The works of H. P. Lovecraft, seminal in the gothic horror genre, have captivated and intrigued generations of readers, yet Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite is the first time those works have been adapted to the stage. Cobblestone Productions has done admirable work in getting them living and breathing at the Common Basis Theatre, even if the work is not an unqualified success.

Of the six dramatic adaptations of Lovecraft's short stories, three are quite good, and three are but acceptable, though all are intelligently crafted in dramatic terms by the show's conceiver and director Dan Spurgeon. Only two of his choices truly threaten to impede the theatrical success of the venture: First, the connecting the stories with excerpts from Lovecraft's poetry read by Harmony Vanlue Tanguay and Jason Hewitt with too little subtlety, and second, in the design of the nearly all-black costumes (by Foye Dashiell and Loraine C. Shepard) and the shadowy makeup (designed by Lanie Morita) that attempt to establish the atmosphere, as though the words themselves were incapable.

What separates the good from the adequate here is the use of theatrical techniques to highlight the differences between what's present and what's missing; in Lovecraft's writings, the scariest moments are frequently the ones that are described in the least detail. Though each story is narrated by one of the performers, the most successful adaptations of stories in Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite are staged exactly that way.

The young boy who calls down a curse upon finding his kitten missing in "The Cats of Ulthar," for example, is represented by a puppet attached to an actor's body, who manipulates his limbs in such a way that he truly appears to be alive. "Nyarlathotep," the story of the creeping chaos, is performed primarily by actors holding flashlights in front of their faces - frequently in an otherwise pitch black theater - and moving in precision patterns, yet is the most chilling of all the stories.

Less successful are the more overtly horrific offerings that try to display what is perhaps better left to the imagination. "The Statement of Randolph Carter" relies more on sounds than it does on images, as many of the most dramatic events in this tale of two men and what they unearth in a cemetery are never even described by Lovecraft. "The Picture in the House" is primarily psychological, and not at all frightening (or even suspenseful) when seen live.

Foye Dashiell gives the best single performance of the evening in her colorful narration of "The Cats of Ulthar," though Anna Bullard's rendition of "Cool Air" and Lanie Morita's portrayal of "The Outsider" - both played primarily against performers behind a shadow screen - are also very effective. Benjamin Pedroff's work in "Nyarlathotep" is occasionally truly frightening, his expressions speaking volumes more than a physical representation of the horrors he witnesses could hope to.

Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite is unlikely to provoke nightmares in even the faintest of heart, but it makes a strong case for both future stage adaptations of his work, hopefully ones that will grasp onto the possibilities that Spurgeon and his cast have just begun to explore.

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Cobblestone Productions
Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite
Through March 30
Common Basis Theatre, 750 Eighth Avenue at 46th Street
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 414-5420