Lovecraft's Follies

Never judge a book by its cover.

But with a cover like that, how was I to resist? I think I dug this up at the fantastic Moe's of Berkeley years ago, solely based on that cover, and my twin loves of theatre and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. "What a Slam Dunk!", I surely thought.

I never actually read Lovecraft's Follies by James Schevill until just now.

I could tell you what it's about, analyze how its weird scripted-Happening aesthetic just never gels, hypothesize how those poor folks at the legendary Trinity Square must have reacted in 1970... but I might have to open it again and re-read some of it.

That's not gonna happen.

I feel like I just got egged.

Happy Halloween!

November Plays

Fall leaves, football, pumpkin pie ... and an end in sight for this project. It's a time to be thankful.

November 2: Riders to the Sea by J. M. Synge Though we're only a few meetings in, I am thankful for The Director's Laboratory, a partnership between Plan-B and the good folks at Meat & Potato. It has energized me like nothing else.(Riders is November's assignment for the class, so I'm also thankful I can double-up.)

November 9: The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project More than anything else theatrical, I am thankful for Plan-B Theatre Company. How would I have ever guessed that a move to Salt Lake would find me a truly exciting and inspiring theatre company, and a theatrical home? This is the play that put them on the map.

November 16: The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by Jess Winfield, Adam Long, Daniel Singer Because I am thankful for Shakespeare. If the theatre gods came down and said I had to choose: a life of just Shakespeare or a life of everyone but Shakespeare ... I'd choose those 38 or 39 plays. I'll pay my respects with this little ditty.

November 23: Living In The Present Tense by ian pierce Because I am thankful for my Chicago years, deeply thankful. I worked with an incredibly talented multi-hyphenate in those days, and one of those projects is fossilized in this book ... but I want to read where he went afterward.

November 30: A Dream Play by August Strindberg I am thankful for those nights when my delightful wife has baked something wonderful, and friends come over and talk about theatre and inspire me. This reading is a result of one such evening and one such talk and one such inspiration.

A Night At An Inn

A Night At An Inn by Lord Dunsany is exactly the kind of horror potboiler that I was looking for this month. Like Eric Samuelsen's Inversion that inspired me, it is unapologetic about its horror roots and does not hide behind a mask of pomo cynicism.

But unlike Inversion, A Night At An Inn is nothing more than that scare. Adventurers have stolen a gem from an idol, and are now hunted by worshipers trying to get it back. Worshipers .... and SOMETHING MORE! (Cue the violent violins!)

Dunsany was a smash hit on Broadway in the early 20th century, and A Night At An Inn was hailed as "one of the best one-act plays ever written". A staged Twilight Zone, it speaks of a time before television and movies when the theatre was the way we told stories - stories that did not need to be deep or profound ... they just needed to entertain. It's a blast from another theater.

I think I miss that theatre.

Frankenstein In Love

I was introduced to Clive Barker originally by some works of his that were adapted for the stage by Charley Sherman at Chicago's Organic Theatre. They were a fantastic evening of theatre, and led me to the stories which proved to me that there was much more to Barker than Pinhead.

He started in the theatre, however ... and I'd never read a play of his until now. Frankenstein In Love is a true horrorshow that marries Bananna Republic politics with the Frankenstein myth. It's a shocking and difficult read, as blood and brains and bodily fluids fill the stage. Everyone's a monster here: we're just choosing the ones we want to call hero.

It clear there's an attempt here to tap into the Theatre of Cruelty and Grand Guignol. But Barker's far more successful with the latter than the former. There certainly is a deep reveling in gore and blood, a visceral enjoyment of shock and disgust ... but there is no transcendence past traditional dramaturgy. Strip away the special effects, and you have a relatively traditional play where the bad guys lose and the hero gets the girl. The Theatre Of Cruelty works differently, specifically in its language and narrative. Artaud was talking about something more than Karo syrup.

But the Grand Guignol? Well, that works. It's a designer's playground, and the combination of the horrors of war with the horrors of horror make for a pretty compelling play. It's an intense evening, to be sure. I'd love to see it sometime, but I imagine it would be a pretty hard thing to be a part of, a difficult world to inhabit as an actor or director.

The Weird

The Weird by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa isn't exactly a lasting piece of theatre art that will span the decades ... but as a way to start off a month of Spoooooooky plays and cleanse the palette after Shaw, it couldn't be better. It's a collection of six short plays trading on horror and pulp ideas, strung together by a narrator that's a clear tribute to the Crypt Keeper.

Bloody Mary is the star of the bunch, cleverly riffing on movie cliches and urban legends while still building to a conclusion that should make any audience scream out loud. It's the curtain-raiser, and nothing afterwards quite matches that mix of fun and horror and theatricality, but the whole play is still pretty entertaining. I got a particular kick out of Swamp Gothic, which references Alan Moore's seminal run on Swamp Thing while also evoking Tennessee Williams ... then twisting the whole thing upside down.

It's simple fun, like a haunted house. And we shouldn't forget that thrills and entertainment is part of what we can do, too. We don't need to cede that to film: it's much more terrifying when the monster is in the same room as you, isn;t it?

(Pictured above is Jedadiah Schultz in the New York production of Bloody Mary. As if to prove theatre is a small world, he is also in SLC this weekend working with my favorite theatre company, Plan-B.)

Man And Superman

Well, now I can put this misbegotten month of plays behind me. I am well and truly off schedule ... but I'll catch up very soon. Expect the first of our month of horror plays to get read in the next day or two. This past month has been a bit of resistance training - it'll all seem easier from here on out. Something about this era just makes the reading slow going. Both Shaw and Wilde do it to me.

It's not that I don't enjoy the plays - I do. I truly regret that my acting career will pass without having played John Tanner, a role I'd love to have sunk my teeth into at some point. But as a reader, it's difficult to make these plays engage. In many ways, Man And Superman is about as dramatic and theatrical as the Socratic Dialogues. These are philosophies given flesh, and set to expound against each other. There's little development of character or plot, there is purely development of thought and language.

I wonder how it all played in the era it was written, an era where speaking tours and lectures were hot tickets, and intelligent conversation was the sort of aspirational behavior that people would want to see modeled on stage. I imagine it played like a house afire, but I don't know how it translates now.

ANN [Looking at him with fond pride and caressing his arm] Never mind her, dear. Go on talking.
TANNER Talking!
[Universal laughter.]