A friend of mine reviews plays for theasy.com, and he took me on Tuesday to see Manhattan Theatresource’s production of Things at the Doorstep. The double-bill show is a set of one-man plays; the first piece, “The Hound,” is an adaptation of the Lovecraft story written and performed by Greg Oliver Bodine, and the second piece, “I Am Providence,” is from playwright Nat Cassidy.
One knows, straight off the bat, that even if one is a Lovecraft fan (which I am, with reservations), two back-to-back one-man shows based on Lovecraft stories are either going to be truly amazing or staggeringly awful. There is not much room for the middling in such an endeavor. Luckily for me, they verged on magical.
The occasion did seem fortuitous: Tuesday was the 74th anniversary of H.P.’s death (of intestinal cancer). That I was wearing the same shirt as playwright Nat Cassidy, who was present for the show, was a nice fateful touch (Bauhaus, very appropriate). Equally apt—particularly for Lovecraft, who was obsessed with astrological omens—the moon was five days away from perigee; on the 19th of March the full moon will be the closest to earth it’s been in twenty years. So! all of that, rather portentous indeed.
Thus it was quite fitting that Things at the Doorstep turned out to be an unexpectedly brilliant mediation on the use and function of horror, on H.P. Lovecraft himself, on the supernatural, on storytelling, on death, on hope. On acting, which bears a suspicious similarity to writing: a career that is almost entirely out of your control—a series of petty humiliations and ongoing miseries that one endures for the sake of those rare and perfect moments of transcendence, when one crosses over into another world, another body, another story than one’s own.
“The Hound” is a smart and lively adaptation by a fantastic actor. Bodine’s performance is gleeful but never ham-fisted (no mean feat, considering he’s left Lovecraft’s overwrought language unchanged). The production makes excellent use of the tiny, intimate theatre space, creating an air of palpable spookiness with smart set design and well-used sound effects, and the piece is deliciously macabre. But it’s Cassidy’s “I Am Providence” that I’m still chewing on days later, thinking about what it means to tell a story, and about what it means to love a writer whose work is truly horrifying—and not in the Stephen King sense of the word, either. As someone who has struggled for years to reconcile her love of, shall we say, problematic texts with her love of a radical and liberatory politics, it is both reassuring and useful to watch someone else wrestling with the same questions—in this case, in the course of a play creepy and thrilling enough to do old H.P. proud (although it is difficult to imagine that gentleman being pleased with much of anything, to be honest).
Who knew that there were so many lessons to take home, from the life of a man who hated people in general and women and people of color very much in particular; a lonely, nasty, bitter human being who spent the majority of his life in a state of profound misery, who died alone and penniless and in excruciating pain, having never known a moment of success; and yet, who produced one of the most enduring and influential bodies of work in literary history.
I’m not going to spoil the secret of this play for you, except to say that it is the most delightful thing I’ve ever seen anyone pull off on a stage, anywhere, ever, and if you are in New York you must go see it. You must. You REALLY MUST. Whatever you do, do not leave during the intermission.
Things at the Doorstep plays at Manhattan Theatre Source, 177 MacDougal Street, through March 26, 2011. Performances are Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, and Sunday, March 20th at 7 PM. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at theatresource.org or by calling 866.811.4111.
The Rejectionist is pretty Cthulhu-like on a good day. She blogs at www.therejectionist.com, where a slightly different version of this review first appeared.