The sign on the door of Red Sandcastle Theatre facing out onto Queen St portends mystery.
Or in other words, I don’t know what it means
Metamorphosis and At the Mountains of Madness. Kafka and Lovecraft.
A huge rabbit safely eluded my car as I drove past Crow’s Theatre, not far from Red Sandcastle. A Hummer brazenly forced its way into my lane almost causing an accident. The hottest May 31st ever was making everyone a bit crazy.
Thank goodness the theatre was so cool inside, for us to hear two weird tales from Eldritch Theatre, to listen to tale-teller Eric Woolfe.
I’ve been talking to designer Lindsay Anne Black, who collaborated with Eric on Metamorphosis. This version of the story seems very apt for 2022. I understand they were thinking of it before the pandemic, but it got that much deeper when the whole world seemed to understand Gregor Samsa.
Gregor was alienated because he woke up from a disturbed sleep to discover he had turned into a cockroach.
The rest of us were alienated because we woke up to a world beset by coronaviruses and the various strategies to avoid getting sick. Gregor hiding alone in his room was a lot like the rest of us.
As if that weren’t enough, on top of that, Lindsay Anne’s life experience parallels Kafka’s story, as she was isolated by her diagnosis of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), leaving her as housebound as Gregor.
So I had to see it.
I worry sometimes that I laugh too much at the theatre, unable to control my impulse to giggle. It’s funny that I seem to have that in common with Lindsay Anne, who seems to be afflicted with the same unquenchable desire to laugh. I had a great time, watching Eric’s deadpan presentation.
I don’t know how he keeps from laughing.
The second part of the program after intermission is in some ways a natural continuation. Where Gregor is a big bug confined to his bedroom, the Lovecraft tale is a lecture that presumes we are all professors listening in to a harrowing story of exploration, grotesque creatures and mystery. The Lovecraft tale is designed by Melanie McNeill.
Eric expands the reach of his lecture via the use of video. His tiny creations come leaping out of the screen, especially when they get closer to the camera.
In both parts of the evening Eric brings creatures to life while telling their stories, a huge solo performance including several feats of magic. I’m reminded of Georges Meliès, the cinematic pioneer of roughly 100 years ago, a brilliant story-teller who was also a famous magician. Eric works magic tricks into his tales as though he were a latter-day Meliès.
There’s a wonderful musical score for the Kafka from Michael McClennan, at times suggestive of the music of central Europe in Kafka’s time (as though he were channeling the neurotic dissonances of a Franz Schreker). The music in the second tale (by another composer, uncredited in the program) is more subdued but subtly underscores our descent into craziness. Director Mairi Babb is master of the revels, getting the most out of our solitary actor. They truly do make magic
Two Weird Tales continues until Sunday June 5th at the creepily uncanny Red Sandcastle Theatre 922 Queen St E, Toronto.