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Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite is an uneven but enjoyable anthology adapted from a half-dozen H.P. Lovecraft short stories published between 1917 and 1926. The product of D.C.’s Grand Guignol-inspired Molotov Theatre company, the show continues the troupe’s recent arc away from the over-the-top gore of its earliest productions, investing more in mood and humor to get its kicks. Although characteristically compact at about 75 minutes, Lovecraft is the company’s most technically ambitious show to date, relying heavily on set designer Rachel Marie Wallace’s projections to supply the gothic environs that the D.C. Arts Center’s constricted black-box theater can’t accommodate. Wallace mostly abstains from using three-dimensional scenery, with the exception of a series of curtains that actor Jennifer Restak ties to anchor points around the stage during “The Outsider,” a clever way of suggesting the labyrinthian castle in which that story’s narrator is trapped.
Restak is even better in “Cool Air,” in which her unnamed character receives emergency medical attention from her neighbor in a boarding house, the mysterious Dr. Munoz (Elliott Kashner).
“The Picture in the House,” first published in 1921, has a setup remarkably similar to the opening of The Magic Tree. In this one, Brian McDermott is the solitary traveler waiting out the rain in a strange house, and Molotov Theatre co-founder Alex Zavistovich is its owner, who seems a little too welcoming of the youngish guy who let himself in and began leafing through his library of creepy books. This telling ends on a more forceful note than its prose inspiration, but then it’s an adaptation, not a transliteration. Anyway, too few theater companies are willing to send a severed head flying across a small room for our amusement.
Rounding out the show are “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” “The Cats of Ulthar,” and “Nyarlathotep.” While these adaptations aren’t as much fun as the others, they’re at least intriguing enough to send you back to the original tales. To be fair, it would be difficult to improve upon this:
And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods—the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep.
Lovecraft gonna Lovecraft.
2438 18th St NW. $20–$25. molotovtheatre.org.