Things at the Doorstep
nytheatre.com review by Nita Congress
March 14, 2011
“Horror isn’t a genre; it’s a fact of life…This is what Lovecraft teaches us: we will all of us face the unfathomable in our lives.”
Those words, by playwright/actor Nat Cassidy, set the tone for a deliciously creepy evening full of surprise and frisson. The Things at the Doorstep bill consists of two one-acts and—at least on opening night—an impromptu but very learned and highly entertaining lecture on the life, times, and works of H.P. Lovecraft, delivered by Cassidy.
Lovecraft is the author of dozens of drippingly gothic horror stories. As Cassidy explained, there was Poe, there is Stephen King, and in between these markers is Lovecraft, giving rise to all that came after him. Neglected in his own time (he was, rather unbelievably, a contemporary of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald, but eschewed any hints of modernism in his writings), he is somewhat obscure now, but his mastery is acknowledged by his literary descendants—King, Chabon, Barker, and a host of others.
Cassidy and Greg Oliver Bodine have devised an evening that puts us smack in Lovecraft’s territory of the weird and wild—albeit in startlingly different means and styles. Bodine’s “The Hound” is first; it is a straightforward adaptation of a Lovecraft story of the same name. Bodine plays the one-character piece in a breathlessly overwrought pitched hysteria that captures the tone of the original. The setting and props—much to the glee of my companion, a Lovecraft aficionado—just as lovingly evoke the original, even to the carefully stamped “Miskatonic University” on an upstage crate. The set, dominated by an ornate red chair, is suitably decadent and ominous; the sound, filled with eerie keenings, scratchings, and the gnawings, growlings, and clawings of an indescribable, invisible hell hound with dragon wings, is magnificent. A well-realized piece indeed (although there was a bit too much fiddling with the tape recorder the protagonist was using to record his terror-filled tale).
Because Lovecraft is all about fear, and fear is based on the unknown, I dare not tell you about the rest of the evening. I will tell you the name of the second piece: “I Am Providence”—Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and this apocalyptic statement is inscribed on his tombstone—“or, All I Really Needed to Know about the Stygian Nightmare into Which Mankind Will Inevitably Be Devoured, Its Fruitless Screams of Agony Resounding in the Unending Chasm of Indifferent Space as It Is Digested by Squamous and Eldritch Horrors beyond Comprehension for All of Eternity, I Learned from Howard Phillips Lovecraft.” Quite the title.
Clever writing complemented by excellent sound and light—designed by, respectively, Jay Spriggs and Kia Rogers—make for a most entertaining evening. Some judicious cuts, tighter direction, and streamlining of the evening’s second half would make this a near-perfect horror fest. There are some exciting risks that the daring Cassidy and director DeLisa M. White have taken; smart editing will sharpen and heighten the pleasure of what they have created.
Some of the evening takes place totally in darkness, with the audience, breath held, hanging on every sound and word. This is pure storytelling, and that’s ultimately what Things at the Doorstep celebrates.