Last year, I had the chance to attend Unbound Productions WICKED LIT and I was left breathless. It was hands down my favorite event of the Halloween season and something that I was anticipating for 2016. For those not familiar with Wicket Lit, it’s performances that showcase three plays from classic horror literature. This year, Unbound Productions took on three new stories featuring H.P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond”, Anansi and the Demons, and Ellen Glasgow’s “The Shadowy Third.” Along with these three performances, Wicked Lit also has a theme that carried throughout the evening. This theme was a camp retreat for the living, dead, and undead and it lent itself to some much needed laughter in-between each of the plays performances. What really gives Wicked Lit that perfect Halloween feel is that all of these performances are done at the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery in Altadena, CA. You couldn’t ask for a more appropriate setting than that.
As my guest and I arrived at our designated time, I could see the familiar hanging lights shining from the trees and guests milling about some very animated individuals. We come to find out that these individuals are the camp counselors for Camp Mountain View. Individuals may be a strong word as they aren’t necessarily alive or all human. The three of them each offer a bit more than what meets the eye and I enjoyed watching them bring their characters to life. After a brief introductions in which our counselors gave us the rules and regulations for tonight's performances (absolutely NO photographs or video recordings) the audience of people are broken off into three sections. To my absolute delight, I learn that my first performance of the evening will be H.P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond”.
FROM BEYOND (Adapted by Trey Nichols, Directed by Jeff G. Rack)
Synopsis: When a great discovery turns deadly, a highly regarded scientist is forced to choose between trusting his eyes or following his brain in order to survive. Included as a staged reading as a part of last summer’s installation of The Monkey’s Paw, this cerebral play is quintessentially Lovecraftian and intensely supernatural.
You should know, I am a huge Lovecraft fan. His stories are the backbone of horror and have been a huge influence of why I love this genre so much. As much as I loved Wicked Lit last year, my main reason for wanting to come this year was because I knew they would be performing a Lovecraft story. I was nervous though. With the exception of Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator”, most adaptations of Lovecraftian stories leave a lot to be desired. However, Wicked Lit did not disappoint. This is one of the best performances I have ever seen of a Lovecraft story. I was absolutely blown away by the sheer talent and devotion that these actors had for the characters. This performance was done within the back portion of the Mausoleum and with minimal set design the actors were able to bring one of Lovecraft’s most well-known stories to fruition. To me, seeing “From Beyond” come to life was truly magnificent and though some may laugh off portions of the ending as being silly, I thought it was a creative attempt at bringing some of Lovecraft’s creatures to life. If there is one performance that left a satisfied smile on my lips it would be this one.
After exiting the Mausoleum, we were instructed to go back over to the camp ground and socialize. While waiting to depart for our second performance, our camp counselors came around and cracked jokes about zombies and werewolves and had guests do phantom archery and arts & crafts. Looking around it was clear to me that those who attended the event were having a great time and that Wicked Lit was truly something special. Soon after, our group was asked to stand and head over to the entrance of the Mausoleum for our next performance, Ellen Glasgow’s “The Shadowy Third.”
THE SHADOWY THIRD (Adapted by Paul Millet, Directed by Bruce Gray)
Synopsis: A shy young girl. An insane mother. A good-hearted doctor with only the best of intentions. One of these things is not as it seems. Or perhaps two. Maybe all three?
This performance was the one that left me chills. I was not familiar with this story prior to this so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Needless to say, it was terrifying, not only because of the supernatural aspect but because it shows the audience how truly sinister and selfish human beings can be. What I liked most about this performance is how the actors made use of the space. Whether it’s the grand staircase inside of the mausoleum, the outdoor area where crypts lay silent, rooms designated to those who are visiting their lost loved one, or the eerily still hallways that seem to never end. The actors made sure to use all of these spaces to their advantage while painting the audience a picture of a grand mansion. The performers were so believable in bringing their characters to life that I felt as though I was watching something unfold that I shouldn’t be. It was though I was trespassing on a family affair and any moment I could be caught. It was an incredibly uncomfortable feeling but it wasn’t enough to deter me, in fact it only made me more curious to see what would happen. What happened was an array of emotions spanning from horror to anger to loss and love. It was one of the most powerful performances of the night and definitely the one that stayed with me well after it was over.
As we exited the Mausoleum and our guide brought us back to the camp ground, I decided to bring some cheer into my life after two very intense performances by trying my hand at phantom archery. Though I managed to shoot my phantom arrow with precision and skill, I unfortunately set off a phantom car alarm that was meant to shock us and elicit laughter from the crowd. My guest on the other hand had a perfect shot, with her phantom arrow hitting the phantom bullseye, which resulted in her getting a gold star. After having some time to recharge, our guides beckoned us to leave for our last performance.
ANANSI AND THE DEMONS (Adapted by Jonathan Josephson, Directed by Jaime Robledo)
*Adapted from the canon of Anansi stories and Ashanti proverbs
Synopsis: Anansi is a trickster and a storyteller. He is also the de facto leader of his village when traditional hierarchies go south with the presence of the Ambassador. Now the Ashanti are starving and the colonists are to blame… it is time to wake the demons, but can they be controlled?
I really wanted to love this play, and there were certain aspects that I really enjoyed, but overall I felt like something was missing. Though I felt the story wasn’t as strong as the previous two, the acting was just as superb and I was incredibly impressed with the makeup, costumes and prop designs. What makes this performance so different than the others, is this one is performed within the cemetery. The backdrop lends itself to the folktales that are being played out and creates an atmosphere of dread and discomfort that follows throughout till the end. Though the story didn’t hook me in as much as the other ones, it was still a beautiful performance with a very strong message at the end.
Overall, Wicked Lit was a triumphant success and it’s clear that Unbound Productions has a unique experience unlike anything else out there during the Halloween season. Each and every performance left me wanting more and the actors showed their full range of talent without missing a beat. Even though there may seem like a lot of events to go to in the LA area I would highly recommend making Wicked Lit one of your top priorities as you will not be disappointed. If you are someone who isn’t a fan of getting scared at haunted attractions but likes spooky tales by the fireside than this is the event for you. For those who love being scared, you will smile in glee at the macabre stories and twisted nightmares that unfold before your eyes. Tickets range from $40-$75 and can be purchased at wickedlit.org or call (323) 332-2065. Also, there is a Backstage Experience where you can learn more about how Unbound Productions puts on WickedLit, for an additional $25. I was able to attend the Backstage portion and it was extremely informative and it reminded me how much work really goes into making a production of this caliber.
There is still time left to purchase tickets and performances will be happening through Oct. 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 as well as November 3-6 and 10-12.