HP Lovecraft on Stage


One of the theatrical groups my daughter performs with wanted to bring some gothic horror to the stage. My mind immediately jumped to the scariest stuff I’ve ever read; the works of HP Lovecraft. Now, most of his stories could never be depicted on a stage (if you’ve ever read his stuff, you’ll know what I’m talking about - or just look at the pictures below!), 





so I took this as a challenge. Could I turn one of his stories into a stage play? As I perused his stories, one stood out as a possibility. I tackled the project, and as a result, ended up having a great time adapting it. There were inherent problems - the result of the difference between the framework of a book and the limitations of a stage, but solving them was a fun mental exercise. And I think I succeeded. The play is based on Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep” (now public domain), and since other acting companies may want to perform it, I am posting a portion of Act I below. If a group is interested in performing it, contact me and I’ll provide the script. It’s a full-length 2-act play, a labor of love, and I humbly think it’s one of the best stage adaptations of an HP Lovecraft story. Enjoy!




THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP
By
H.P.LOVECRAFT
1933


Stage Adaptation by
Steven Reinagel 2011

ACT I


INT. LIBRARY. SPOTLIGHT CENTER-STAGE

DAN UPTON stumbles into spotlight from stage left. His clothes are disheveled and blood-spattered. He is carrying a revolver.

                              DAN UPTON
It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope you will come to believe that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman - madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium. Some day others will weigh each statement, correlate it with the known facts, and ask themselves how I could have believed otherwise than I did after facing the evidence of that horror - that thing on the doorstep.

Stage lights come up. EDWARD DERBY casually strolls in from stage right and stands, looking around him. Dan turns to look at him.

                              DAN UPTON
So I say that I have not murdered Edward Derby. Rather have I avenged him, and in so doing purged the earth of a horror whose survival might have loosed untold terrors on all mankind.
(begins backing up stage left, continuing to look at Edward)
There are black zones of shadow close to our daily paths, and now and then some evil soul breaks a passage through. When that happens, the man who knows must strike before reckoning the consequences.
           (exits stage left)


Edward’s father enters and looks around, clearly pleased. Edward’s mother enters last, slowly, hugging herself and looking uncertain.

                              MR. DERBY
A good choice, Miskatonic University. See, you don’t have to go to Harvard to get a degree in, um...

                                EDWARD
English and...

                                  
                              MR. DERBY
English and French literature. And so close to home you can walk - which will be good for you. Isn’t that right, dear?

                              MRS. DERBY
Yes, certainly. It will be good to have you staying near by.

                                EDWARD
Well, they do have an excellent library here. It should be a great help to my poetry.

                              MR. DERBY
Yes, and didn’t your friend Dan say he would even illustrate your poetry book for you?

                                EDWARD
Oh, he’s given that idea up. He really can’t draw.

                              MR. DERBY
But isn’t he going to school for architecture?

                                EDWARD
Well, he can draw buildings, just not draw...the things I write about.

Edward finds a book on a shelf and seems very happy about his discovery, but hides it from his parents. He places it carefully on top of the shelf.

                        MRS. DERBY
                      (looking about)
And speaking of Daniel - where is he? I thought he was going to stop by and say goodbye before he left.

DAN UPTON rushes in from stage right.

                                 DAN
I’m here! All packed. My train leaves in twenty minutes. So Ed, what do you say?

                                EDWARD
                (looks around, then smiles at Dan)
I’ll have this place licked in three years!

                                 DAN
That’s the spirit! I wish I could feel the same about Harvard.

                         MR. DERBY
Dan, tell me; how is your father these days?

                            
                            DAN
Not so well, I’m afraid. This New England weather takes such a toll on his respiratory system. We may have to move him south before long.
           (He suddenly looks at his watch)
I can’t stay. Just came for a quick goodbye.

                         MR. DERBY
Let us drive you to the station.

                        MRS. DERBY
Oh, yes, We’ll be happy to. Come on, Edward.

                          EDWARD
You go ahead. I want to stay and prowl about a bit.
(He walks over to Dan. The two grasp each other’s arms)
Best of luck, old chum.

                            DAN
Same to you. Be sure to mail me some of your poetry.

Dan and Mr. and Mrs. Derby exit. Edward retrieves the book. He continues scouring the bookshelves, rounds a corner and slams into ASENATH WAITE, a young, dark-haired woman.

                               ASENATH
Damnation and hell!

                                EDWARD
Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t see...forgive me.

                               ASENATH
                (Calms and looks intently at him)
No, pardon me. You must be new here.

                                EDWARD
Yes, starting classes this fall.

(Awkward silence follows. She slowly extends a hand)

                                  
                               ASENATH
I’m Asenath Waite.

                                EDWARD
Um, Edward. Edward Derby. A pleasure to meet you. Hmmm...Waite...You’re from Innsmouth, aren’t you?



                               ASENATH
Yes, the fishing village. My family has lived there for generations.




                          EDWARD
I remember your father - Ephraim. I used to see him passing through town. He would visit this very library.
                          ASENATH
On occasion. There are some volumes here that can’t be found anywhere else. What book do you have there?

                                EDWARD
This? The Book of Eibon.

                               ASENATH
Good book.


                                EDWARD
You’ve read it?

                               ASENATH
Indeed. You could say I know it forwards and backwards.
           (She slides the book from his hands and    opens it to a page)

‘And on hands and knees I toiled along the slick and fetid corridor that wound through the Vale of Pnath, past the mountains of bones, all the while aware of vengeful eyes that longed only to consume me. Between the Peaks of Thok the temple lay, its chiseled horns upraised to receive its sacrifice - the spot into which all the ghouls of the waking world cast the refuse of their feastings’.

           (She returns the book)
So, this kind of stuff interests you?

                          EDWARD
Oh, I’ve always been curious about arcane lore, mythology - you know, the old gods. Probably comes from being locked up inside for most of my childhood. Had to find some means of escape. So it became books.

                          ASENATH
Locked up? How sad.

                          EDWARD
Oh, I don’t mean literally. It didn’t help that I was an only child, and certainly not the healthiest one, at that.

                          ASENATH
Didn’t let you out of their sight, huh?


                          EDWARD
Not a chance. And when they did let me outside to play, I had to have my nurse with me. But I write, too - that’s been my other back door - my gateway to some freedom.

                          ASENATH
Really? What do you write?

                            
                          EDWARD
Poetry, mostly. I’m building my compilation, hope to have it printed some day. It’s called ‘The Shadow of Azathoth and Other Horrors’. Sounds disturbing, I know.

                          ASENATH
Oh, not really. I think I can understand it little, looking at where you grew up. I thought my town was chilling, but Arkham - sagging gothic roofs, crumbling edifices, hanging over the banks of the cold, dark Miskatonic River. And the legends I’ve heard - intriguing, I could say, to put it nicely.

                          EDWARD
Innsmouth isn’t without its share of tales, either.

                          ASENATH
Tall tales. You know, if you really want to study books like this, (she digs through her purse and produces a pencil and piece of paper) books that don’t shy away from addressing the peculiar and arcane, we’re having a gathering of "intelligentsia" in one of the student rooms next week. (she writes something down and tears the page out) Here is the room number. I think we’ll be talking about the nature of consciousness and about its independence of the physical frame. I do hope you can come. (she gives him a strangely intense gaze)

                                EDWARD
                (Looking from the note to her)
Oh, certainly. I...I look forward to it.

                          ASENATH
And you should. I think your education here will be...most illuminating.


8 comments:

  1. Hi, I don't see any contact information, but I'd really like to see your script for THE THING ON THE DOORSTEP. In addition to being a Lovecraft fan, I'm on the board of our local community theater in Mansfield, Ohio. We're always on the lookout for something scary--an alternative to the comedies that we always end up doing. Anyway, my e-mail is jmoser1 at ashland.edu. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Mr. Reinach,

    My Drama class is in the process of selecting a play to put on and yours caught my attention. I was wondering if you could send us the complete script for us to take a look at. My school email is brendonly at johnmccraess.ocdsb.ca and if you could reply as soon as possible, it would be greatly appreciated, as it seems the pressure is mounting for us.

    Thank You,

    Brendon Ly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Brendon,
      I emailed the entire script to the email address you provided. Please let me know if it reached you or not. If not, send me an alternate email. Thanks.

      Delete
  3. I am a company member of the Montana Actor's Theatre, and I was looking for an H P Lovecraft play for our October show. I would love to Direct your adaptation, you can email me at pulanotutor AT gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello, i really want to read your entire script. I am a member of an english group on Uruguay and want to propose an horror night. Thank you very much
    diego.samuelle@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. I teach drama and direct at a school in Knoxville, TN. Would you mind sending me the full text of your play; I'm curious to see if it would be a good fit for my students.

    Thanks,
    Stephen

    ragnarhedin AT gmail DOT com

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Stephen,

    My wife has been looking for something for her Grand Guignol company to stage, and I think that your adaptation of 'The Thing on the Doorstep' (always one of my favourite Lovecraft stories) might be just the thing. Would it be possible to see the whole script? My email address is: ajlane@ntlworld.com.

    Thanks,

    Andy Lane

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hello, I'd love to read your full script.
    My drama class is looking for plays for our fall show this year and your adaptation seems perfect for what we're looking for.
    Could you see me the full script?
    aaronncassar@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete