Solo for Unhinged Voices: “The Call of Chthulu”

I am not mad — though many think me so — yet I have never been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s writings.

Oh, I admire his bid to carry forward the art of Edgar Allan Poe, in both matter and narrative style.  But I fear Lovecraft may have marched into an impossible domain — describing extraterrestrial terrors so alien as to be beyond the very words he must use.

What’s a problem on the page, though, can work just fine onstage.
A year ago, the Visceral Company wove a half-dozen of his tales into their widely praised Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite.  With delightful sets, inventive puppets, fine acting and award-winning tech design and directing, they transformed the writer’s frantic words into a shared experience of uncertainty and fear.

Frank Blocker

Frank Blocker

This October, they’ve rolled out the heavy guns — Frank Blocker is performing alone.  The Call of Chthulu, which many regard as the definitive Lovecraft tale, becomes a two-act drama that sets sail in sanity and ends in … (See for yourself:  returning the plays’ final horrors to mere words would be a grave disservice.  Very grave.)

Blocker isn’t really alone, of course.  There’s a truly splendid set by John Burton, filling the small space with shadows and uncertainty  while seeming utterly familiar.  There are puppets (created by Burton, and managed by Rosie Santilena, Mariele Michel, and Milena Matos), from cloth dolls to looming shadows.  There is the flawless directing of Dan Spurgeon, who also created the engrossing sound design.   And there’s Joshua Silva’s nimble lighting.  All the delights Visceral audiences have come to expect.

But it’s Blocker out there alone for an hour and a quarter, setting us back in our seats with an opening shock (not in the written tale), then drawing us slowly, steadily in.  As he unwinds his web, he lets nine disparate characters emerge, each one caught in the net of mystery and madness, each more overwhelmed by it.

From the polished academic to a neurasthenic artist, a Louisiana bayou cop to a Swedish sailor (and his wife), Blocker morphs as easily as a hummingbird changes direction.  His remarkable vocal range is matched by the many levels of intensity he creates, so that we unwittingly hang our disbelief on the wall and follow him into the otherworld.

The Call of Chthulu is a tale made of words — but woven into a lived experience by the flesh-and-blood actor before us (and his unseen collaborators).   Like Nightmare Suite, it’s an exquisite example of the adapter’s art, subtly transforming prose into drama.

And it makes Lovecraft downright fun, even for me.

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The Call of Chthulu, by H.P. Lovecraft, adapted by Frank Blocker, directed by Dan Spurgeon.
Presented by the Visceral Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm. through
December 7th.

Tickets:  <www.thevisceralcompany.com>