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'Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite' Is an Early Halloween Treat For Theater Fans

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Scary plays are a rarity in the American theatrical landscape, but thankfully Los Angeles has several theatre companies that offer something macabre for horror aficionados. Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood delivers year-long delightful strangeness, Wicked Lit stages literary adaptations in nighttime graveyards and the Grand Guignolers create their own mix of classic French gory Grand Guignol and stylish modern humor. Finally, there is the Visceral Company and its adaptation of several H. P. Lovecraft tales called Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, a deftly directed and well-acted show that serves quite well as an early Halloween treat.

All of the six stories feature a main narrator with the rest of the ensemble serving in supporting roles, and with the exception of the hokey and overwrought prologue and epilogues, they're all good. "The Statement of Randolph Carter" concerns an ill-fated expedition into a tunnel under a cemetery, and Andrew Bourgeois is admirably anxious as the increasingly terrified Carter. Dave Sousa's lighting design is inspired here, particularly with the blue backlighting that gives the cemetery projection a sepulchral eeriness. Devereau Chumrau gives her performance of "The Cats of Ulthar" a slyly sardonic edge in this story of feline revenge, and John Burton's distorted puppet townspeople are memorable creations. Maya Eshet brings genuine pathos to her portrayal of the title character in "The Outsider," a story of self-discovery where horror becomes tragedy.

Mark Souza expresses growing unease with appropriate restraint in "The Picture in the House" as he takes refuge in what he thinks is an abandoned home. Steve Peterson is amusingly deranged as the house's obsessed owner. Nicole Fabbri excels at telling the tale of "Cool Air," where her character meets a physician whose living arrangements are seriously chill. The use of an actor's shadow to serve as the doctor works beautifully, a symbol of how things aren't quite right and a literal demonstration of the darkness at the heart of the story. Finally, Daniel Jimenez is terrific as the doomed narrator of "Nyartlathotep," going the full Lovecraft as he descends into panicked madness at the story's apocalyptic ending.

Considering Lovecraft's habits of describing things in his stories as too terrible to actually describe, things that would drive you hopelessly insane to even glimpse, director/adapter Dan Spurgeon has done a fine job of making the nebulous more concrete. His adaptations retain the distinctive flavor of Lovecraft's prose while trimming their floridity and making them actable. His direction is creative and successful, particularly effective in the lantern-lit gloom of "House" or in clever grace notes such as the shadow doctor kicking an actual chair over in "Air." The poems between the stories unfortunately suffer from either muddy recording or a poor sound system, because most of the words are hard to make out, but this is a quibble in what is otherwise an outstanding and entertaining production.

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"Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite" plays through Nov. 3 at the Lex Theatre. Tickets are available online.