Review: Theater of Thought's Executor

Mediocre mystery
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 5, 2011

SKETCHY DETAILS A character renders a cthulhu.

Producer, director, and actor Amber Kelly's Theater of Thought likes to take audiences by the imaginations and thrust them into the actual locations of plays they are watching.

In her latest production, Executor, based on a novella by H.P. Lovecraft, her audiences are no longer just looking on, they are participants in the story as they walk around Providence streets executing the last will and testament of George Gammell Angell.

Running through August 28, the theatrical production has audience members meet on College Hill and see what happens as they walk from character to character. The site is appropriate because of the Providence references in Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu, which Executor draws from. In the tale, a crucial text was left by Angell, a Brown University professor of Semitic languages, and a RISD sculptor student crafted a small bas-relief image of a grotesque creature, the cthulhu, which has been appearing in dreams around the world. Participants of Executor are meeting to solve some mysteries left unresolved after Angell's demise, which was caused by his "knowing too much."

Lovecraft's 1928 story was published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales. The title character is literally out of this world, octopus-like with its oozing, tentacled head and able to fly with dragon wings. Not something you want to encounter on a Benefit Street stroll.

Things started out with a phone call from Gail Partridge, attorney at law (Melissa Bowler), telling us where to meet. She arrives, carrying a briefcase and wearing a beige suit, her running shoes a cute contrast. She's nervous, frazzled, amusing us with little details she drops about her legal specialty, personal liability ("puncture wounds . . . death"). She tells us where to meet our next contact.

That's how things proceed, from one troubled character to the next. From each of them, we receive something that Angell wanted gathered together, to be destroyed at the end of our journey. We are sent to a sailor who has seen too much, to an artist obsessed by his dreams. A recent widow is volubly upset, but she is speaking only Spanish, so is she pleading or warning? A maundering alcoholic warns us about squirrels.

There were fewer than a dozen of us in our traveling company. One couple had brought their son, about 10, who was enthralled to the point of fright, although he knew it was all make-believe — when he was asked to throw coins for an I Ching prediction, he shook his head and backed away.

There has been much recent discussion about immersive theater, in which audiences are pulled out of complacent observation. Amber Kelly has been challenging audiences with site-specific productions in Rhode Island since 2007. One was set in a remote cabin in Alaska, taking audiences to a cottage in South County woods. She has had us watch a trailer park conflict through the open side of a mobile home and a play-length argument of lovers in bed, placing us in bleachers in front of a motel room picture window.

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