Hollywood Gothique
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HHA 2016: Best Short Halloween Play/Performance

Nominees: From Beyond, The Tell Tale Heart

This year we have only two nominees in this category, which shines a light on shorter works that are typically part of a larger anthology format. The unfortunate reasons for this are that some of our favorite Halloween events with short dramatic performances were not in operation this year (the Voices of Pioneer Cemetery  Tour, the Strathearn Park Ghost Tour), and we did not make it to the Historical Society of Long Beach’s Cemetery Tour. Nevertheless, The Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival and Drama After Dark: A Night of Poe and Gorey supplied plenty of terrifying tales to choose from, including this pair of stand-outs.

From Beyond at Wicked Lit (pictured at top). This Lovecraft adaptation wrestles the material into a reasonably coherent dramatic form – no easy feat, considering that the original story is basically a vehicle to advance a disturbing concept: strange realms lurk beyond our senses, filled with terrors that would drive us to the brink of madness if we could perceive them. They key to translating Lovecraft, however, is capturing the other-worldly menace evoked by the author’s deliberately over-heated prose. Wicked Lit pulled this off with amazing dexterity, using a variety of effects to convince those the audience that the gap between our world and the Beyond had truly been bridged, unleashing strange, other-dimensional beings like nothing of this Earth. The only thing that could have improved the visual experience would have been a healthy dose of hallucinogens.

John H. Higley in The Tell-Tale Heart
John H. Higley in The Tell-Tale Heart

The Tell Tale Heart at Drama After Dark. Much of Drama After Dark consist of verbatim recitations of Poe’s first-person narratives, which provide an excellent basis for one-man (or one-woman) performances (“The Black Cat,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “Berenice,” etc). Perhaps the richest text in this regard is “The Tell Tale Heart,” which is written in such a fever pitch that any actor worth his blood would love to sink his fangs into it. It’s not only a great story; it’s also a marvelous piece of prose, which captures the voice and personality of its homicidal narrator. Bringing the character to life with little more accessory than a costume, John H. Higley captured every nuance of the character’s mania and wrung every iota of expression from each line, word, and syllable, creating a tour-de-force performance that was always perfectly in character.

The Winner: The Tell Tale Heart

In different ways, both “From Beyond” and “The Tell Tale Heart” evoke insanity – one from the outer dimensions, the other from the inner mind. Forced to choose between them, we have to say that, when the final (metaphorical) curtain dropped, we felt more deeply touched by the madness of the latter. We have read “The Tell Tale Heart” many times in our life, but on that night in the Huntington Gardens, surrounded by shadows created by torches flickering in the October breeze, the story was no dusty classic hauled off the shelf; it came to life like with the magic that great art can occasionally achieve, the kind of force that wipes away the need for suspension of disbelief and sweeps one up and into the illusion, until we too could almost hear “the beating of his hideous heart!” Bravo!

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.