Professor Whately (Kathryn Cesarz) notices a few people ambling down the long hallway leading to the humble Quasimondo Physical Theatre studio space. She points the way cordially before meeting the rest of the group touring Miskatonic University. Like most college kids we were a little eager, possible a bit anxious, going so deep into the annals of such a austere and cavernous building for the first time. Before the first scene, the strokes of genius laid in this production by Artistic Director Brian Rott and assistant Simon Eichinger begin. Even the audience must get in character.
New Research Wing
As if portions of the lecture hall are being a revamped, the first scene can be viewed through a torn tarp. A single window hung in one of the set’s partitions provides another vantage point to the opening faculty meeting. Dim white light glows through a mist that has overtaken the Dean’s office. The professors prone on the floor, writhe as if possessed, jerking as if stricken by tetanus. What has overcome them?
Meet the Professors
Unaware of the ordeals, the student body meets their new instructors as the faculty file in revealing each others’ finer points through charade. Dean Thurston (Jeremy Eineichner) introduces Dr. Judith Wilmarth (Jenni Reinke) professor of English, her knowledge and ambition for literary mastery unmatched.
Herbert West, Prof. of Medicine and Anatomy (Kirk Thomsen) and his Graduate Assistant, Danforth (Alex Roy), make a formidable team capable of conquering mortality. Her eyes contemplating the wonders of the universe, Prof Whately’s gaze never leaves heaven’s stars, diligent in her research of Astronomy, she may have interdisciplinary interests. Physicist Randolh Carter (The Skrauss), practical and calculating, keeps the faculty grounded in reality.
Prof. Webb (Thom Cauley) doctorate of Anthropology, persistently searches for intellectual understanding of human cultures, desperately has intertwined with Amelia Dyer (Jessi Miller), Emeritus in Geology, who constantly pursues her life’s work through harrowing experience. Wound in the aesthetics of existence Professor of Art History Victoria Wilcox (Emily Craig), wields the power to interpret life through symbols.
The students who actually made it freshman orientation will get a fleeting chance to peer into each of these learned individuals’ life work and personal struggles, as they come to terms with their tenure being interrupted by Dean Thurston’s crowing discovery of the ancient text Necronomicon, and its translation by expert Semitic linguist Prof. Angell (Michael Guthrie). Eventually, each of the Professors’ personal complexes, personified by a celestial alien monster, will consume every one involved.
Love & Cthulhu is the most ambitious and inventive production Milwaukee has seen in recent years, quite possibly ever. Only one other comes to mind as even coming close. Directed into their strengths, everyone in the ensemble performed exceedingly well and with immense presence. Semi-lead roles by Thom Cauley, Kirk Thomsen and Jessi Miller stood out further, their roles accentuated by tenacious method and character.
Staged as a series of vignettes, Love & Cthulhu shows that the imagination of a few handfuls of dedicated individuals knows no bounds. They boil illusion, set design, props, movement, lighting, sound, pantomime, dance, acrobatics, live classical music, and miniature and large format puppetry into a cauldron that leaves the audience stirred, challenged, and awestruck; their imaginations’ still twisting at the curtain.
If Cthulhu rings a bell you are in rare air. That’s right Rott and his ensemble adapted Love & Cthulhu liberally from H.P. Lovecraft’s body of work that bridges the gap from Mary Shelly to Orson Welles.
Quasimondo’s production runs long and packs every scene with so many goodies this review would become an exposition. It’s run time is worth every moment of drama.
Love & Cthulu has gaping mouthed undiscovered tribes, expeditions “on belay” in distant lands, seething monsters, aliens, chanting cults, academic socialites that invite illusionist Nyeriathotep (Eichinger) to entertain them, geek romance over petri dishes and telescopic photographs, scientific experiments with Serum 3.2.1, and ballads of desperation.
The Quasimondo’s tech work deserves extremely high regard. Puppeteers Dawn Swarty, Bridget Cookson, and Mike Petit, led by Andrew Parchman, animated inanimate objects such that Dr. Moreau would fly into a jealous rage.
Stage Design held the hallmarks of Quasimondo’s inventiveness, sparse and utilitarian partitions the main feature, constructed by Paul Bentz, Andy Walsh, and Rott and illustrated by Nerissa Eichinger and Andy Walsh. Costume hit the spot designed by Fabrizio Cappeli Salon, Carolyn Christianson and Rott.
Quasimondo’s company boasts a team fluid in multiple artistic disciplines, many of the cast double musical composers. Jennie Reinke, Steve Wolf, Kathryn Cesarz, and Simon Eichinger scored the show. Choreography and Dance directed by Eichinger, Reinke, Miller, Rott, and Couley.
You hardly are ever missing out on a show, but if you miss Love & Cthulhu you definitely are and you’ll miss the most epic scene change in the history of theater. Tonight’s the night, Love & Cthulu closing performance March 1 at 8pm at The Fortress. Arrive early, as your entry to the house is guided.