Radiotheatre's 3rd H.P. Lovecraft Festival
nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
April 19, 2012
(This is a review of Program A, whose is running time is 90 minutes.)
The work of Mr. Howard Philips Lovecraft lends itself naturally to claustrophobic readings, being as it was so largely unappreciated in his own lifetime. It's not hard at all (if perhaps slightly reductive) to see Lovecraft as ranting anxiously into a void, hearing only the echo of his own voice in reply. Add in Lovecraft's lifelong fear of going insane, and the claustrophobia only closes in further. That considered, the idea of presenting Lovecraft's text as radio theatre (as RadioTheatre is) is a fairly natural one.
Two stories are presented here. The first is the relatively brief “The Moon Bog,” in which a man narrates the tale of his friend's ill-fated decision to drain the titular wetland, which has supernatural consequences. The second, much longer, story is “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” a multiple-part tale of the classic Lovecraftian New England town with a terrible, terrible secret.
Writer-sound designer Dan Bianchi and director-actor Frank Zilinyi control their environment very specifically. What light there is is a foreboding red, and the sound (engineered live by Wes Shippee) is loud and harsh, to the end of enhancing the uneasiness and doom in Lovecraft's text. The result, actually, is that all focus is on the text, making this a work of considerable interest to hardcore Lovecraft enthusiasts.
It does, however, present non-initiates with the difficult situation of having nowhere else to turn in the theatrical experience. With the focus entirely on text that was written to be read rather than spoken, in very short order anyone not intimately familiar with that text is, potentially, lost. The singular focus on the text is supported quite well by the show's design, but let down slightly by the actors. The acting, while not bad by any stretch of the imagination, is still not quite enough to overcome the obstacles that the text, and the total focus on that text, present. Characters blur, narrative threads are lost (usually only temporarily, in fairness), and an unfortunate alienation between performance and audience occurs.
The above should all, of course, come with the caveat that truly passionate fans of Lovecraft's work (and, perhaps, radio theatre as well) will likely find this loving presentation a good deal more fascinating than mere appreciative readers. It is a work by and for Lovecraft fans. The above critique is likely irrelevant for those whom Lovecraft's words alone are the only needed attraction. If the mere mention of the name Lovecraft is enough to perk up your interest, you will likely enjoy the Lovecraft Festival a great deal. If not, the experience may be a bit trying. Fortunately, there is no requirement that all art need be for everyone, and thus the standards by which this production should be judged are those established by the audience this show is for, rather than by outsiders.