Molotov Theatre Group’s new production, Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, an adaptation of six of the old spook master’s stories by Dan Spurgeon and the first play of Molotov’s 2015-16 season, appeals to two of the most important aspects of my nature: an abiding love of all things horror and a Ritalin-worthy attention span. Indeed, divided into six tales and with a total running time of only 70 minutes, Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite is a refreshing shot of old time horror that strains the nerves but not the pocket watch. And although the show, directed by Jay D. Brock, is uneven at times and occasionally drifts too far into static storytelling, H.P. Lovecraft’s text itself is compelling enough to enchant, mesmerize, and yes, at times even terrify – and all just in time for Halloween.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and Molotov’s home base at the DC Arts Center in Adams Morgan is certainly spartan enough. With a tiny stage and a meager light grid, Molotov has utilized projection designs in increasingly creative fashions (see my review of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom) and Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite is no exception. Projection and Scenic Designer Rachel Marie Wallace crafts a variety of intriguing backdrops that both contextualize and complement the action on stage. The giant projection screen is in fact six thin vertical tapestries that can be walked through, stretched, interacted with, or simply laid flat for a single large projection.
There is not really a consistent style to the projections, which is a shame because the design would be stronger if it was more unified. The closest thing I saw to a signature style was the backdrop for The Cats of Ulthar vignette, where a collage of overlapping planes and half-finished silhouettes is both creepy and slick. The image for the first tale, The Statement of Randolph Carter is a similarly heterogeneous configuration that mixes the literal (tombstones, because well, it takes place in a graveyard) with the abstract – the opening of an ancient tomb is denoted not by blackness but by the crackling black-and-white snow of a TV jammed between channels. This is the sort of design that elevates projections from just being a cheaper alternative to a physical set into a true art form in and of itself.
As for the acting, it too is uneven but mostly solid. Alex Zavistovich, who is also a Co-Founder of Molotov, gives the strongest performance as the Storyteller in The Picture in the House. Jennifer Restak is also strong in The Outsider and Cool Air, both of which happen to be the spookiest of the six tales. What Zavistovich and Restak have in common is that they are adept at showing the text as well as telling it.
I recently saw The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by the touring professional theater company Aquila, and they had a similar problem to Molotov: the source material they use primarily consists of stories told by a single narrator about things that have happened in the past, sometimes without any dialogue at all. This is all fine and good for literature, but on stage there is a tremendous imperative to show rather than tell.
Director Jay D. Brock ought to elicit even more movement, gesture, and mime to bring to life a text that is not only antiquated by its age, but firmly rooted in the past tense. Where this does occur – a mixture of movement and spectacle that makes manifest the tales of H.P. Lovecraft – the effect is spectacular. Where it falls short in this, it becomes more of a Lovecraft audiobook – which, I should add, is still brilliant, but misses an opportunity for further greatness.
Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, with no intermission.
Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite plays through November 8, 2015 at Molotov Theatre Group, performing at the DC Arts Center – 2438 18th Street NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online.
‘The Grand Guignol Twist in ‘Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite’: The Horror Is What Is NOT Seen’ by Alex Zavistovich.