TWO WEIRD TALES: Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' and Lovecraft's 'At the Mountains of Madness'

Eldritch Theatre at Red Sandcastle Theatre

Courtesy of Eldritch Theatre's Facebook page

Joe Szekeres

Two bizarre and whacko presentations that resonated strongly with this opening night audience. I’m still puzzled even though there are some knockout moments.

I had heard of Eldritch Theatre over the last couple of years, but I never had the opportunity to see anything staged by the company.

Until tonight’s opening night of Two Weird Tales: Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ and Lovecraft’s: ‘At the Mountains of Madness’.

On its Facebook page, Eldritch bills itself as: “Toronto's only theatre company specializing in ghoulishly giddy tales of horror and the uncanny, told with live actors, creepy puppets, and dark magic.”

Somehow ‘ghoulishly giddy’ seems an appropriate consonance in description of these two tales that were wildly bizarre and whacko. I arrived ten minutes before the production started and had to use the restroom. Even in the restroom there are kooky and weird looking tiny chachkas which set the mood.

I have no problem at all with the bizarre and whacko especially if it is a good story and narrated or told with excitement and vigour.

That excitement and vigour was most assuredly at hand in this solo production performance by creator and adaptor Eric Woolfe. Woolfe is highly enthusiastic and remained the veritable crowd pleaser for his work in telling these two tales with keen eagerness. He is also an extraordinary illusionist and demonstrated exceptional prowess in what some might call ‘magic skills.’ When children are in the audience, I call it magic skills. When adults are present, I call it illusionary or slight of hand.

I do have a slight quibble, nevertheless.

Was I to watch two tales come to life through story telling or was I to watch an illusionist show? I like watching both genres, but the choice to combine the two, well, puzzled me. I’m not sure if Director Mairi Babb made that choice or if Eric Woolfe did.

Woolfe began narration and telling of both tales confidently and bravely; however, he appeared to stop the story telling action with these slight of hand illusion tricks and involved audience participation. I found that distracting as I never read either of these works by Kafka and Lovecraft and was interested to hear and see these tales performed.

Now, I liked the illusionist moments at the top of ‘Metamorphosis’ before the story began because that was all part of the fun Woolfe created to establish the persona of the narrator as weird and whacky. His costume of bathroom, pajamas (thanks to Susan Batchelor) and slippers combined with the hollow faced eyes (effective use of make up by the way) made me pay close attention to him. Initially he reminded me of the character Fester from The Addams Family.

As he began to tell and perform Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ and began telling the story of salesman Gregor Samsa who awakens one day and finds himself transformed into a giant insect, Woolfe hooked me instantaneously. Lindsay Anne Black, designer of ‘Metamorphosis’ wrote in her Programme Note: “the production’s process has been a struggle at times, but everyone has worked so hard to make it possible, and it has been absolutely worth it.” I admired the detailed work I saw in Emily Butters’ garishly looking puppet oddities and wished I could have seen them up closer as I sat in the last row up in far stage left corner. As I listened intently to the varied voices by Woolfe, I was reminded of Canadian puppeteer and artist Ronnie Burkett who uses sometimes ghoulish looking marionettes to tell stories.

The same occurred after intermission in watching Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountain of Madness’. Woolfe assumed a totally different persona of a stereotypical blowhard know it all professor and incorporated the use of a fantastic puppet in beginning Lovecraft’s tale of the events of a disastrous expedition to Antarctica in September 1930, and what is found there by a group of explorers. It was all great fun to watch. The picture above shows the puppet in use.

When the plot momentum is clipping along nicely and then stops in its tracks to perform illusion tricks (which are good, don’t get me wrong), I lost track of what both plots were because I was focusing on the slight of hand moments instead and watching the audience reaction to them.

Melanie McNeill, Designer of ‘Mountains of Madness’ wrote in the programme she found the story: “the moooost booooorng ever and it took her FOREVER to finish reading it and couldn’t figure out why Eric was keen on it.” It was the spring of 2020 and in the grips of the pandemic so she could design artwork for this production and just lost herself in the making and creating of the artwork. McNeill’s artwork in this tale is beautifully drawn and it was a wonder to behold, again from where I sat, but I still am puzzled by ‘Mountains’ plot and I can’t figure out why Eric is keen on it as well.

Final Comments: I am most definitely interested in seeing Woolfe’s work again in another play as he revealed elements of a solid performer who can handle many roles. I’d also like to see his work as an illusionist.

Combining the two in this production is puzzling and confusing.

Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission.

‘Two Weird Tales: ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ runs to June 5 at Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen Street East. Showtimes are 7:30 pm/ and a 3: 30 pm Sunday. Tickets available: eldritchtheatre.ca/tickets.

Covid protocols in effect at the theatre

ELDRITCH THEATRE presents Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ and Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’

Adapter and Performer: Eric Woolfe

Director: Mairi Babb

‘Metamorphosis’ Designed by Lindsay Anne Black

‘At the Mountains of Madness’ Designed by Melanie McNeill

Lighting: Michael Brunet

Original Music: Michael McClennan

Stage Manager: Sandi Becker

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