Two classics from literature's horror hall of fame and one lesser-known tale of the supernatural marked the Bowers Museum's initial, cautious foray into live professional theater.
The Santa Ana institution's first commissioned work: "Things That Go Bump in the Night," a pre-Halloween, two-day run featuring a trio of chillers -- Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs and Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Ring of Thoth" -- minimally staged as old-fashioned radio theater with sound effects and actors reading from scripts in front of standing microphones.
Written by Cecilia Fannon, who directed with expert sound-effects artist Pete Taylor, the adapted tales were a featherweight diversion, ably executed but fully alive only in the dynamism of Fannon's treatment of Doyle's more obscure tale about an Egyptologist, a beautiful mummy and an elixir of immortality.
With Fannon's nicely wrought twist at the end, the cast dug a little deeper in the telling, with solid performances by Josh Campbell and Ree Johnson as the haunted alchemist young and old, respectively; Cameron Markham as his horror-stricken, betrayed friend; Lovelle Liquigan as the doomed object of their affection; and George J. Woods as a witness to the unthinkable with a secret of his own.
With the addition of an anticlimactic coda to "The Monkey's Paw" and the reduction of Poe's disturbing narrative of insanity to an awkward 1940s-style gumshoe trifle, the remaining tales failed to ignite, despite Johnson's pitch-perfect, deadpan cop. Composer Chuck Mitchell's mood music was a plus throughout.
Kudos to the Bowers for its willingness to test the theatrical waters. With a viable talent pool to draw from and a comfortable midsize theater space to play with, here's hoping it will expand its ambitions in the future.