by Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant.
Going to the Maker Theater is always an adventure. It’s a tiny theater tucked under a bridge in a dark Post-Industrial section of Ellsworth Avenue. It’s considered Shadyside, but it’s really East Liberty Adjacent. Attending a play or improvisation comedy show there reminds me of seeing a play in the East Village. It’s a bit funky, wild and slightly dangerous.
The street isn’t very well lit and the darkness makes it the perfect place for 12 Peers new one man show, “Lovecraft’s Monsters.”
Playwright and actor David Crawford wants you to understand the life and times of writer H. P. Lovecraft, an iconic figure in the horror oeuvre. He created terrifying creatures, most notably is Cthulhu, a beast god that his part octopus, dragon and man. The author’s stories were influential to many horror writers, Stephen King often cites Lovecraft as an early influence.
His tale is sad one, mostly brought on by his own inability and inaction. There’s a lot stacked up against him. Lovecraft’s father was committed to an asylum, his mother was overbearing, and he was traumatized by night terrors. Those terrors also became fictionalized subjects for his work.
The writer was also an unabashed racist who left his wife and was unable to earn a living. Lovecraft writes about monsters, but might actually be the monster. Crawford wants us to like the subject, but he isn’t a likable character. A more honest depiction would have been much more effective.
The good natured actor bounds onto the near barren set, and tells us his plan to expound on the life Howard Phillips Lovecraft to the audience. There are a few good jokes. Unfortunately, some of them use Lovecraft’s racism as a punchline. “I liked New York at first, but there are far too many immigrants there.” It’s funny, true and ultimately sad.
The play starts slow, but begins to pick up steam. At times, Crawford portrays an omniscient narrator, at other times, he’s the author himself, but when he immerses himself into the characters, the show starts jumping.
The last twenty minutes of “Lovecraft’s Monsters,” are riveting. Crawford is captivating as he recounts Lovecraft’s first published story, “The Shadows of Innsmouth.” He inhabits the role of the narrator, a student on an antiquarian tour of New England who spends the night in a village overrun by demonic sea creatures. A local resident, the town drunk (deftly performed by Crawford), tells him about how the creatures are inter-breeding with humans and performing ritualistic sacrifices. The young man must run for his life to avoid being killed by the evil beings. The final moments of the show are gripping.
Horror is a subjective experience, and while Lovecraft broke ground in the genre, in modern parlance, the premise seems silly. In retrospect, a squadron of marauding merman chasing a man through a seaside town sounds ridiculous, but Crawford was able to pull it off.
The show is at its best when Crawford is dramatically unfolding Lovecraft’s fiction. However, the show is bogged down by a lot of non-fiction. The beginning of the show is mired in too many facts about the man. It’s comes off as a lecture, because it’s more tell than show.
A story about an author plagued by myriad insecurities isn’t as interesting as the stories he creates. Crawford’s show could be greatly improved if he concentrated more on the work and less on the man.
(Lovecraft’s Monsters runs March 12-21. All shows at The Maker Theater, 5950 Ellsworth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. Thursday-Saturday, 8 pm. Tickets $17 online, $20 at the door/$15 with a student ID. There is a special pay-what-you-can performance on Monday, March 16, at 8 pm)