Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review - "The Temple, or, Lebensraum"

By Byrne Harrison

Overall, I have been very disappointed in adaptations I've seen of H.P. Lovecraft's work.  Other than some very successful radio-theatre performances, the adaptations I've seen (mostly film) have relied on cheap shocks and middling special effects to try to catch even a hint of the horror that Lovecraft could convey with a handful of words.

This is why Nat Cassidy's adaptation of Lovecraft's "The Temple" is such a delight.  Well, as much of a delight as anything involving mutilation, suffocation, cannibalism, Nazis and the elder gods can be.  Cassidy is a strong storyteller; one who fully appreciates just how powerful the combination of excellent actors, fraught situations, and an audience's imagination can be.

The story, moved from WWI to WWII, follows the crew of a German U-boat.--a group of men of different backgrounds, some who have worked together for years, some completely green.  Sailors fighting a losing war, wary both of their hot tempered captain and a visiting Nazi officer in their midst.  In and of itself, this is a fertile ground for drama.  But adding in a mysterious stowaway, one who couldn't possibly be alive, yet somehow is, and her statues of bizarre and grotesque gods, and the madness that she brings to the ship gives the story its creepy supernatural twist.  To say nothing of the sunken city and its strange citizens….

Cassidy knows that the real drama comes, not from any monsters, but from the relationships between the characters, especially in how they react to the Nazi officer in their midst.  Much of the play focuses on these relationships, particularly between the Kommandant (Arthur Aulisi) and Oberfuhrer Heinrich (Matthew Trumbull). It is the Kommandant's ship, and he sees Trumbull's fussy Nazi officer as an annoyance.  This eventually turns to rage and he lashes out in a way that could destroy his career.  But with the arrival of the Stowaway (Adriana Jones) and her mysterious carvings, and the effect they have on Heinrich, it's just a matter of time until the whole crew is doomed.  And this is before they even arrive at the sunken city.

As I said before, the play focuses on the characters, not in trying to show the fantastical elements of the story.  There is no attempt to bring the elder gods of Lovecraft's mythology to life onstage. No attempts to show the audience a sunken city.  Just the awed whisper of Oberfuhrer Heinrich as he describes the city and its inhabitants.  And this was exactly right for this production, and made the ending of the play much more powerful than any attempt at special effects would have.

The cast is very strong, with particular praise going to Matthew Trumbull for his work as Heinrich.  Watching the character go from a bumbling PR man to a psychotic killer is amazing.  Arthur Aulisi as the Kommandant and Tristan Colton as 2nd Wachoffizier Zinner also give outstanding performances.  I should also point out that one of my favorite moments of the play was during a scene where the men were running out of air.  The actors were arranged on the floor trying to breathe.  No dialogue.  Just breathing.  The amazing thing is that the audience was rapt the entire time.

Sandy Yaklin has done an amazing job at transforming the theatre at The Brick into a submarine.  And the way she has arranged the seating makes it easy for the audience to feel like part of the action.  Morgan Zipf-Meister's lighting design and Jeanne Travis's sound design just add to the effect.  There were a number of times where I started to feel claustrophobic.

In addition to being an excellent playwright, Cassidy is a strong director, creating a taut, well-paced drama.

Unfortunately, "The Temple, or, Lebensraum" ends its nearly sold-out run tonight.  I have no doubt it will make another appearance in the future.

The Temple, or, Lebensraum
Written and directed by Nat Cassidy
Inspired by "The Temple" by H.P. Lovecraft
Stage Manager: Sarah Lahue
Produced by MozzleStead
Set Design by Sandy Yaklin
Sound Design by Jeanne Travis
Light Design by Morgan Zipf-Meister
Costume Design by Ben Philipp
Gore Effects by Stephanie Cox-Williams
Technical Direction by Ashanti Ziths
Fight Choreography by John D. Gardner
Publicity by Bunch of People Press & Publicity

Cast: Matthew Trumbull (Oberfuhrer Karl Heinrich), Arthur Aulisi (Kommandant Tod Klenze), Tristan Colton (2nd Wachoffizier Sigmund Zinner), Zac Hoogendyk (3rd Wachoffizier Erich Trauke), Ridley Parson (Funkhauptgefreiter Ahrendt), John D. Gardner (Meteorologe Bohm), John Blaylock (Bootsmann Albrecht Muller), Eric Gilde (Ingenieur Tom Raab), Adriana Jones (The Stowaway)

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