The Dunwich Horror

category: one-act
genre: horror
running time: 1 hour
setting: Massachusetts
period: early 20th century

Wilbur Whateley, a wizard from Dunwich
Lavinia Whateley, his mother, an albino
Sally Sawyer, a housewife living on the outskirts of Dunwich
Luther Frye, a farmer living on the outskirts of Dunwich
Mamie Bishop, an Irish woman of ill-repute in Dunwich
Joe Osborn, an upstanding citizen of Dunwich
Curtis Whateley, an inkeeper in Dunwich
Frances Morgan, a professor of literature at Miskatonic University
Warren Rice, a professor of science at Miskatonic University
Henry Armitage, a professor of the arcane at Miskatonic University
Abijah Hoadley, a preacher in Dunwich

One Halloween night, in Dunwich, a rural Massachusetts village, local pariah Lavinia Whateley gives birth to a strange, demonic looking child named Wilbur, who grows up to become even more of an outcast and misfit than his mother. After she disappears, he attends Miskatonic University, where one night he is caught attempting to steal a rare book rumored to be a spell-book. Attacked by guard dogs as he tries to escape the library, he dies of his wounds. When an autopsy reveals he has an alien and grotesquely deformed anatomy, three professors of the college go in search of answers about who Wilbur was and why he was willing to risk his life for the ancient tome. Meanwhile, in Dunwich, livestock and people begin to go missing and soon the whole town is in an uproar. The professors arrive and learn of Wilbur’s past through interviews with the people, and eventually deduce he was half-human and half-something else, and that he was not Lavinia’s only child. Led by Professor Armitage, the trio attempt to use the book of magic to save Dunwich and the world from whatever it is that Wilbur’s sibling proves to be.

author’s comments:
This was my second attempt to adapt a story by H.P. Lovecraft, and the less we say about the prior attempt, probably the better. This one was far more successful. I went about creating this piece as a cross between reader’s theater, storytelling, and radio, and I have to say I rather like this sleek, hour long one act, and it proved to be quite performable at its first reading. Not a strict adaptation, but a fairly reverent one, I was able (in my opinion) to open up the story, give the characters a little more depth and personality, but preserve both the tone and language of Lovecraft’s original tale- which is simply fantastic. I consider the opening paragraphs of the story some of the best writing he ever did, and I transcribed them as much as possible in the opening of the play. My vision is to one day complete two more adaptations of Lovecraft stories, so that this could be performed as part of a longer evening of Halloween/horror themed plays, as dressed up or simple as possible, ideal for reading with a group of friends around a fireplace, or putting onstage with all the sound effects, costumes, and puppets a theater company is willing to throw at it. In the meantime, it’s not a bad solo piece, almost a full evening of theater, and idea for a company full of actors who excel at direct address and telling a good, if somewhat ridiculous, yarn.

Staged Readings:

San Francisco Theater Pub, October 25, 2010 at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco, California. Directed by Stuart Bousel, lighting by Seanan Palmero. Cast: Stuart Bousel (Abijah Hoadley), Megan Cohen (Lavinia Whateley), Aoife Davis (Mamie Bishop), Luther Frye (Alex Hersler), Chris Kelly (Wilbur Whateley), Dan Kurtz (Joe Osborn), Carl Lucania (Henry Armitage), Brian Martin (Curtis Whateley), Hector Osario (Warren Rice), Cassie Powell (Frances Morgan), Leigh Shaw (Sally Sawyer)

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