Dragons and monsters and ghosts, oh my!

'Shoggoths on the Veldt' is a wild and wacky Lovecraftian spoof

If you go see Cameron McNary's "Shoggoths on the Veldt" at the Dragon Theatre, leave your seriousness at the door, sit back and be prepared for maximum silliness. To get in the proper mindset, perhaps take a selfie wearing the green inflatable tentacles provided in the lobby. It's that kind of show.

The setting? A daring, swashbuckling journey to "deepest, darkest Africa" from "brightest, shallowest London" in 1889. Intrepid Lady Euphonia Riggstone (Alika U. Spencer-Koknar) hires dashing explorer Welton Mountcrag (Tasi Alabastro) to accompany her on her quest to return a cursed statuette from whence it came and allow the tortured, amnesiac ghost of her fiance, Lord Melford Pumbleshire (Ronald Feichtmeir), to rest at last.

Melford, midway through an exploration of the Dark Continent, was killed in unseen but ghastly fashion by mysterious beasts not long after sending the statuette to Euphonia. In his new ghostly form he is doomed to constantly "reboot" and re-remember his horrible death every few minutes, usually just when he's getting up to speed on his spectral existence, much to his erstwhile betrothed's annoyance. Yes, some among the living, including Euphonia but not including his romantic rival Mountcrag, can see, hear and interact with him. He also discovers (and rediscovers, repeatedly) a neat trick: If he touches someone who's aware of him, he can possess their body. This may become important later.

Anyway, Mountcrag, Euphonia and Melford set off for Africa, accompanied by servant Crompit (Michael Weiland, who also turns up later in the role of a cheerful, murderous German nihilist called Arnulf). Along the way they meet the highly strung Lady Phillipa Bickleford-Smith-Jones (Lisa Burton), who may be hiding a few things behind her uppercrust innocent veneer. Oh, and then there's Betsy. She's an enormous, tentacled amoeboid monster (one of the titular Shoggoths) who's enslaved by an evil master and sometimes eats humans.

Over the course of the preposterous two-act comedy, directed by Dragon co-artistic director Bora "Max" Koknar, the crew battles beasties, speaks in exaggerated posh accents, flirts, visits the dread volcano temple of a deranged cult, engages in slow-motion fight sequences and more. It's very geeky, goofy stuff and just when you start to think, "OK, perhaps this is all going on a bit too long now," it wraps up with a surprisingly sweet and satisfying ending.

Shoggoths, by the way, are a reference to creatures from author H.P. Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos," so those already familiar with that world (which I admittedly am not, very) will no doubt get an extra kick out of the play, which has an awfully good time playing with stereotypes of uptight, sexually repressed Victorian males and colonial pompousness. There are definite nods to "Indiana Jones," with a feminist twist on the old-fashioned adventure story.

Jacob Vorperian's animations and projections are practically a character in their own right, his moving maps and vintage-looking stage cards providing essential -- and very humorous -- information throughout. Kathleen Qiu's costumes are striking. And of course it's always exciting to catch a glimpse of a tentacled monster puppet (design by Kate Martin with puppetry coaching by Samantha Ricci). Fight choreography by Mike Fatum is noteworthy as well and the actors give it their all, physically and emotionally.

As Melford, Feichtmeir is the best I've ever seen him, and Spencer-Koknar absolutely commands the stage in the leading role. Alabastro, last seen at the Dragon as Macbeth, is in purely comedic mode here as the buffoonish, cowardly Mountcrag, complete with outrageous facial mugging. It must be a tiring show, demanding as it is, but one gets the feeling they're all having a blast.

I'd be remiss not to mention that those clever Dragon folks have arranged an extra activity to go along with "Shoggoths on the Veldt": a companion interactive escape room, in which players must complete puzzles to solve an ancient mystery and prevent an apocalypse. The game room will be available from May 17-27 and tickets are separate from tickets to the production. Another nice touch from a theater company small in size and budget but big on ideas -- and fun.

What: "Shoggoths on the Veldt."

Where: Dragon Theatre, 2120 Broadway St., Redwood City.

When: Through June 2; Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

Cost: $35-$27.

Info: Dragon Productions.

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2 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of another community
on May 16, 2019 at 6:22 pm

Enjoyed this very fun play on Mother's Day with my husband and 2 older teens. The set design is very minimal so you can focus on the excellent enthusiastic performances. Highly recommend!

Like this comment
Posted by john kirschner
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2019 at 3:12 am

From my swshbuckleing days of relative calm to the uproarious splendor of "Shoggoths on the Veldt," I have been known to come unglued upon leaving the glu factory of humor. This production left me in an awkward situation. That of being loving it but, for the fourth time in my life, torn by the idea of sharing my feelings in public knowing that I really know nothing. Bring a friend. Bring an enemy. Bring them both to enjoy or despise the love-jate relationship of a bright light being shed on dark humor.

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