L.A.’s own Unbound Productions does more than just their acclaimed annual Wicked Lit show—they offer up smart, often delightfully macabre theater basically year-round. The latest of their productions is a very fine version of W.W. Jacobs’ classic chiller, “The Monkey’s Paw,” paired with a particularly nice reader’s theater telling of H.P. Lovecraft’s well-known “From Beyond.” (They call the latter a “staged reading,” but don’t be fooled: What Unbound Productions calls a “staged reading” would be a pretty effective full-on stage performance for just about anybody else!)
The evening takes the audience back to the well-loved and historic Mountain View Mausoleum (a beautiful working mausoleum in the San Gabriel Valley, all marble, brass, stained glass and woodwork) and opens with “From Beyond.” Playwright Trey Nichols capably preserves the necessary spirit of Lovecraft’s work while deftly ensuring that actors have more to do than faint away and audiences have more to understand than merely that a horror is “eldritch and indescribable.” James Castle Stevens’ direction is smooth and assured, and the cast (including the always-entertaining Dustin Hess as Tillinghast, solid work from Chairman Barnes as Inspector Theobald, and an adroit Eric Keitel killing it in the usually thankless role of Phillips—given that Lovecraft rarely lets his narrators be more than wilting lily-men) is top-quality. A particular nod must be given also to Justin Radford (as Deputy Littlewit), as he demonstrates once again his pure scene-stealing talent in another show.
The audience is then ready, more or less immediately, to move on to another part of the Mausoleum and experience the creepy chills of “The Monkey’s Paw.” Here again the Unbound Productions team aces it—Richard Large and Jennifer Novak Chun are credible and touching as the parents whose lives are shattered by the black magic of the monkey’s paw, while Raymond-Kym Suttle blends overtones of sophistication, suffering and the sinister as their military visitor. Ably supported by Eric Deloretta and Kyle Fox, the cast richly inhabits their roles and the sad, O. Henry-ish horror of their predicament under the clear-eyed direction of Paul Millet.
Any discussion of these shows would be remiss in overlooking all the technical personnel involved—particularly the effective costumes by Christine Cover Ferro and the rich lighting designs by Hilda Kane. While all the Unbound crew does a fine job, this show really demonstrates how important both mood lighting and impeccable costuming are for this kind of theater to settle around the audience’s imagination like a deep, dreaming shadow.
There’s still one weekend left to catch The Monkey’s Paw and From Beyond at the Mountain View Mausoleum—switch on your resonator, make a wish and go!