As the audience enters the Red Sandcastle Theatre, we are taken very good care of by a classic usherette named Camille (Emma Mackenzie Hillier), who escorts us to our seats while relentlessly peddling her wares—various macabre collectibles for the show. The prized item is “Doc Wuthergloom’s Field Guild to Monsters,” a pamphlet that itemizes various threats from Lovecraftian behemoths to quaint local spooks.
Campy and grotesque paraphernalia adorn the small stage—shrivelled heads, ominous contraptions and myriad sinister bits and bobs—all united with a red and black striped motif. Here There Be Monsters is exactly the sort of ghoulish lunacy we can trust Eric Woolfe to deliver with panache.
Doctor Pretorious Wuthergloom (Woolfe) begrudgingly gets up from his cozy upstage corner and tries to save our souls with his vast knowledge of eldritch gobbledygook. The good Doctor, who has seen better days, is sporting an elegantly threadbare charlatan ensemble. Designed by Melanie McNeill, it blends Tim Burton and Día de los Muertos. He’s coming apart at the seams, but that doesn’t diminish his flair for showmanship.
As he unravels a series of macabre tales wrapped inside of each other, we are treated to a variety of ghastly and hilarious scenarios that feature all manner of gnarled puppets. Close-up magic is woven into each segment—some sleight of hand here, a little mentalism there—and it’s all admirably convincing. Of course, there is Muppet-esque carnage with red fabric gore thrown haphazardly in all directions—always a highlight!
I enjoy Woolfe’s clever literary allusions. Here, I was particularly delighted by his riff on the scene between Laura and her Gentleman Caller in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Knowing that play by heart for many years, it was a thrill to see this eerie, fun house version—a socially reclusive woman opening up to an aw shucks charmer, but instead of quiet heartbreak, it leads to grand monstrosity and murder!
Throughout, we get endearing audience interaction with some very witty patrons (on night opening, at least) and a handful of pointed jabs at the Ford government. A running joke about trying to sell us his damn pamphlet always gets a laugh. While this didn’t feel quite as narratively immersive as Requiem for a Gumshoe or as deeply resonant as Two Weird Tales!, it’s a solid entry in Eldritch Theatre’s brand of consistently inventive and fancifully spooky low-tech spectacle.