The actors almost never make eye contact with each other in “Tomes of Terror: Lenore.” They stand in fixed positions at their microphones, looking down at white stacks of printer paper on which their lines are printed. The show takes place in an undecorated church, with disappointingly un-spooky cream-colored walls. At times, people at a table offstage start stepping on piles of newspaper, or shaking a large piece of hardened tin foil, and it’s difficult to hear the dialogue with all the noise.
“Tomes of Terror: Lenore” wouldn’t be a very good play. It might be better presented as an audiobook. However, it’s neither. It’s a project by the Post-Meridian Radio Players (PMRP), a troupe focused on the “preservation of radio drama and development of audio theater,” two art forms saved by the growing popularity of podcasts. PMRP is composed of voice actors, Foley artists (the people shaking the tin foil into microphones to mimic the sound of thunder), writers, sound designers, and more. They work on performances of everything from original writing to works of literature to interpretations of B-movies, like the upcoming production of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”
Their Halloween show, which is at the Responsible Grace Church until Oct. 28, consists of dramatizations of Edgar Allen Poe’s short poem, “Lenore,” and his stories, “The Premature Burial” and “Hop Frog,” along with Edith Nesbit’s “Hurst of Hurstcote.” A spookier Don Pardo introduces each work with information about the author, historical context, and the work itself. These introductions exploit the horror genre in a clever and chuckle-worthy way, just like the rest of the show. “Tomes of Terror: Lenore” illuminates great works of literature with loving precision[, and thus][AND] demonstrates the whimsical nerdiness of the radio drama genre.
“Hurst of Hurstcote,” adapted and directed by Liz Salazar, follows John Hurst, a man who cannot get over the loss of his young lover, Kate. Kate comes back to haunt him, while a doctor by the name of Bernice does her best to keep him under control. Brit Lee Reese is delicately frightening as Kate, creepily standing in the background, doing her best to speak to John. Throughout the play, madness takes its toll on John (Andrew Winson), who is held back by the strong, but flustered Bernice (Kristen Heider). The voice actors master the art of the hushed, gothic-era British accent to bring this work, reminiscent of an extremely unsettling Jane Austen novel, to life.
Amy Bennet-Zendzian directed and Tegan Kehoe adapted “The Premature Burial,” which tells the story of a delightfully neurotic man named Dr. Bower and his all-consuming fear of being buried alive. Each character in this show is a brilliantly colorful caricature. Pre-psychology psychologist Dr. Mott (Robin Abrahams) lodges artfully crafted comebacks to skeptics of her profession in her rich, deep, [perfectly][AND] unique radio voice. The ensemble (Chris Adams, Carol Sutherland, and Catherine Quintana) provides all sorts of comedic relief, with their hilariously awful French accents and curly white “powdered wigs” made of cheap plastic.
“Hop Frog,” directed by Eric McGowan and adapted by Christian Krenek, is the largest adaptation of the night, with 11 actors in total. In the story, the oppressed Hop Frog overthrows a tyrant and haunts the queen for the rest of history by grinding her teeth to create a horrible screeching sound. Aisha Stewart, who plays Hop Frog, far exceeds her role as a voice actor with a piercing but blank stare that never ceases, until she begins to laugh maniacally—both are equally disturbing. Characters like Chancellor Stultividia (Katie Meyers) and General Bello (Dan Burke) are cleverly nefarious side characters, and the actors’ physical appearances are straight from the original story.
This production dazzles with impassioned delivery, but the most special parts are the goofy and thoughtful touches: strawberry-flavored Whoppers and orange Junior Mints at the concessions stand, Foley artists wearing lab coats covered in fake blood, a playbill filled with festive spooky fonts, hilariously cheap-looking outfits, and an announcement about exits suitable for all emergencies, even existential ones, delivered by Orson Welles, back from the dead. “Tomes of Terror: Lenore” is filled with affectionate winks to the audience in the form of whimsical inside jokes carefully curated by the directors, voice actors, Foley artists, and more who make up PMRP.