The Gothic Theater: Supernatural & the Grotesque in Dream Up 2016

The Gothic Theater

While ghosts, ghouls and other Gothic monsters prefer to dwell in dark crypts and ominous graveyards, they have been known to frequent the theater.

It’s a shame that horror is almost exclusively associated with cinema in the contemporary artistic sphere, because theater has been known to produce genuinely horrifying and thrilling productions. Horror has been making a push into the theater scene, a charge led primarily by the British. There have been highly successful productions of “The Woman in Black” in London’s West End and “Titus Andronicus” at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the past few years, inspiring a influx of horror and thriller plays. The Dream Up Festival 2016 is presenting a thriller play that exists within the same genre, but one that is distinctly American; “The House of Setting Sun” by Thomas Blakeley.

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“The House of Setting Sun” is a southern Gothic thriller musical. Now there’s a genre that deserves to enter common parlance. “Hello producer, I hope you’ll look at my manuscript, it is a southern Gothic thriller musical.” It is a musical closely connected with the Gothic tradition, particularly the Gothic themes explored in literature from the genre written in the American south. Embodying themes of decay and grotesqueness, “The House of Setting Sun” engages the supernatural through the character Eudora, a mystic who travels with a carnival. She is consulted by Victor, a southern gentleman, to help communicate with the spirits of his murdered parents in an attempt to deduce the identity of their killers. Scared yet? You will be. The musical uses both visual and audio techniques to entrap the reader in the world, keeping them tense and engaged in the imminent fall of Victor’s house.

The play draws inspiration from many literary stories within the Gothic genre. The most obvious would have to be Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The play utilizes the setting of a dilapidated southern estate, namely Evenfall Plantation. A far cry from the once glorious days of the old south, this ruinous manor is the stage for the characters to toil against insurmountable odds. The underscore of gloom and doom drives the plot, allowing the audience to know that there is no such thing as a happy ending. Constant parallels are drawn between the Gothic setting and the post-bellum south, invoking nostalgia for a southern society before the American Civil War, like many southern-Gothic writers like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor have done before.

Musically, “The House of Setting Sun” draws on a wide range of styles and genres, all of which are composed and organized to emulate the sounds of the Jazz Age, in which the story takes place. Five composers with varying backgrounds and styles collaborated on the musical, resulting in a diverse range of tunes that evoke a melancholic nostalgia and tense anticipation.

“The House of Setting Sun” will premiere at TNC on August 28 at 8:00 PM in the Johnson Theater. For a full performance schedule, ticket prices, and more info about the play or the festival, please visit www.dreamupfestival.org. For more information about “The House of Setting Sun,” please visit http://evenfall.strikingly.com/.

So long and goodnight.

By Tim Esteves

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