The Visceral Theater Company’s production of The Call of Cthulhu, an echo of last year’s highly acclaimed H.P. Lovecraft compendium Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, brings another of the early 20th century horror writer’s works to the stage in a nimble one-man production directed by Dan Spurgeon. Adapted by and starring Frank Blocker as a panel of characters locked into a grim fraternity by their shared knowledge of the eponymous, octopus-visaged alien god-monster, this Cthulhu is an adept adaptation that may — should your spine-tingling proclivities slant in this particular direction — prove both chilling and satisfying.
Blocker offers an impressive turn, primarily as the ambitious nephew of a deceased archaeologist who stumbles across a series of troublingly similar accounts while sifting through his uncle’s papers. From there, we visit a reclusive artist, a degenerate tribe of Greenland devil worshipers, a doomed Norwegian sailor and his wife and Inspector Legrasse, a New Orleans detective who uncovers some bad mojo down in the bayou.
Blocker’s mastery of his characters’ dialects helps clarify the throughline, but the elevated literary diction and tortuous chain of investigation offer slow going for the neophyte. Despite its enduring popularity in certain quarters, Lovecraft’s sci fi-drenched tale feels rather baroque and quaint when seen through contemporary eyes. If you’re the sort of person who usually shudders at the terrors inflicted on humans by their earthly brethren, you may find the unspeakable horrors allegedly posed by this extraterrestrial behemoth somewhat remote.
This is partly why I found the sequence with Legrasse — underscored by some masterful lighting and sound work, with just enough suggestion to kick your imagination into overdrive — so compelling, while the final incarnation of Cthulhu — skillfully wrought from papier-mâché but a puppet nonetheless — a bit deflating. Still, judging from audience reactions, it seems unlikely that Visceral’s core fanbase of genre enthusiasts will be much deflected by these reservations.
The Visceral Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlwyd., through Nov. 9. www.thevisceralcompany.com.
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