Live action voice acting brings Lovecraft’s best and pulpiest to life.
Could there be a better Halloween treat than H.P. Lovecraft? Clearly live audio drama performers Radiotheatre don't think so, as their Annual H.P. Lovecraft Festival is now celebrating its seventh year. But these stories are classics, and they only get better with age.
Radiotheatre's unique style turns voice acting into live performance, just as dynamic and active as if there were no scripts in front of the actors. Lovecraft’s style of first-person narration blending into dialogue fits easily into the format of oral storytelling and audio drama, and under the skilled guidance of these performers the stories truly come to life. The tales chosen for this year’s festival aren’t necessarily the best or the most famous, but that only hints at the wealth of material yet to cover, and the pulpy horror stories are perhaps more fun to see live.
Friday night’s selection included four stories: He, Hypnos, The Horror at Martin’s Beach and The Curse of Yig. In He, a narrator heavily based on Lovecraft himself laments the atrocious state of modern New York City, only to meet a stranger who can show him visions of the region at any time at all. Hypnos is the story of a young sculptor who under the influence of drugs and the only man who understands her becomes immersed in a fantastical dream world from which they struggle to escape.
The Horror at Martin’s Beach tells the story of a monstrous sea creature with feet instead of fins and the effect on the community when first a baby of the species, then an adult makes its way to the seaside town. Finally, The Curse of Yig features an insane asylum director who relates the tale of a pair of settlers who run afoul of the Native American snake god Yig and how he came to look after the survivors.
The performance largely consists of actors with scripts standing at music stands, facing the audience head-on as they speak and gesticulate. Lights on the music stands shine directly into the performers’ faces, and along with copious fog and colored lighting effects generates a suitably spooky mood, no set or costuming needed. Instead, the story narrows down to just the voices the audience hears and the confined but certainly not muted actions the performers add to punctuate the story.
The live sound engineering and mixing is not really utilized as a mode of performance in this production despite the pair of technicians sitting quite visibly on or near the stage. Still, the background mood music, creaking doors and other traditional sounds of a scary story are a welcome and vital addition to the show, exactly what you would expect of H.P. Lovecraft without becoming a cliché.
This evening's three performers were all quite talented, engrossing despite the inconsistencies in whether additional actors would voice the secondary characters in a story or not, and because everyone on stage is clearly enjoying themselves the audience does too. R.Patrick Alberty is a masterful storyteller in He and The Curse of Yig, while David Neilsen exhibits an extraordinary range in voice acting in The Horror at Martin's Beach and Chloe Lewis brings great energy to Hypnos. Alberty and Neilsen's spooky chemistry in He arguably wins the distinction of best piece of the evening, though the scariest moments may be when the trio comes together at the end for The Curse of Yig.
Ultimately, how much you enjoy The 7th Annual H.P. Lovecraft Festival will largely depend on your feelings toward Lovecraft in general, whether you can dismiss his depiction of Native Americans or his foot monsters as the product of his era and appreciate the stories all the same. But Radiotheatre does a spectacular job breathing new life into the Lovecraft canon, introducing audiences to their unique medium of performance at the same time. Not bad for an evening's work.
The 7th Annual H.P. Lovecraft Festival plays at the Kraine Theater through October 11.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.