This latest episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre represents an ambitious undertaking from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society: A 6-disk, 7-hour audio play that spans five continents and includes an international cast of characters based, not on an original Lovecraft story, but on a Chaosium role-playing game.
Each disk in the boxed set breaks the story up into chapters, as the setting moves from one country to the next. I’m going to divide my review into the same sections, and try not to give too much away as the story progresses.
It begins in New York City in the 1920s, at an engagement party for Hazel Claflin (Sarah van der Pol) and Marcus Buchannan in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria.
The Claflin family is quite prominent both socially and politically, and includes a state governor and a Speaker of the House.
Oh, and Hazel’s cousin is Victoria Woodhull (Kacey Camp),the pioneer American feminist who ran for President in 1872. Still an active old lady in her 80s, she’s come all the way from England to attend her young cousin’s party and upcoming wedding.
While at the party, Hazel receives a phone call from an old boyfriend, Jackson Elias, a writer and world traveler who researches cults and other arcane mysteries. His most recent investigation has placed him in grave danger and he desperately needs her help. Hazel goes to him–she feels she owes it to him since their relationship ended badly. Marcus insists on coming along with her.
“We’ll be back before you know it,” Marcus says as the young couple exits.
Given this set-up, the listener might anticipate that Jackson will drag both Hazel and Marcus along on a series of exciting and terrifying adventures, and it will be quite some time before they return to their guests at the party.
But that’s not what happens.
By the time Hazel and Marcus reach Jackson’s hotel, he’s already been brutally murdered. His killer, a black man wearing a strip of red cloth in a headband, is still there; when Marcus tries to detain him, he too is fatally injured.
Having lost both her fiance and old lover so suddenly and tragically, Hazel’s determined to find out who’s responsible for their deaths. Her only clues are the fact that the murderer was carried off by two other men wearing the same type of red headgear in a dark red Hudson roadster, and the briefcase containing odd notes and newspaper clippings that Jackson wanted to give her for safekeeping. (These same props come with the CD set so you can examine them for yourself as Hazel and Victoria do.)
Several items relate to an archeological expedition in Egypt led by Roger Carlyle five years earlier, and which disappeared mysteriously in Kenya. Others are more cryptic.
There’s also a small, black statue of a sphinx with numbers on the bottom… numbers that seem to change when Hazel looks at the figure a second time.
Instead of the now-late Jackson and Marcus, Hazel acquires two other men to assist her with her investigation and subsequent globe-spanning adventures. One is Cecil Watson (Andrew Leman) of the Providence Trust Insurance Co., who’s conducting an investigation of his own related to the death of Roger Carlyle and a policy for two million dollars; he meets the two ladies when that same red Hudson roadster tries to run them off the road. The other is Zeke Ford (Sean Branney), an old partner of Jackson Elias’s who turns up at his funeral to the consternation of Hazel. Zeke’s not quite another old boyfriend of hers, but whatever happened between them is the reason that both broke up with Jackson.
Albert Wilmarth (still Matt Foyer) from The Whisperer in Darkness shows up at Jackson’s funeral too, but doesn’t play any further part in this story.
Even though she’d rather not see Zeke again, Hazel finds that the two of them are Jackson’s sole beneficiaries, and the recipients of a recorded message he’s made to leave them both a warning and an urgent request:
“The Carlyle Expedition–it wasn’t what people think it was. There’s a cult at work–multiple cults–united worldwide in an unholy purpose. Many names, many forms, but all toward one end. They must be stopped.”
Which sums up the plot.
The remainder of this first section splits the story up as each one of the main characters follows a different line of investigation. While Cecil traces Roger Carlyle’s psychiatrist, who also went on the expedition, Zeke visits the warehouse of a business imports unknown artifacts from Africa for a curio shop in Harlem. Hazel takes a quick trip to Arkham to meet with an anthropologist at Miskatonic University who recently gave a lecture on a cult in Australia that Jackson attended, and hears about strangely familiar, incredibly ancient huge stone ruins in the desert. Victoria works with a Glenda Farrell-esque NY Times reporter to uncover police corruption and help a woman whose husband has been unjustly convicted of a series of earlier murders that closely resemble Jackson’s.
These separate lines eventually lead them to the same place: That curio shop, where Hazel, Zeke, and Cecil meet up just in time to witness the Cult of the Red Tongue holding a dark and terrible ceremony with something horrible in a pit in the basement.
We’re off to a good start!
The initial mystery of who killed Jackson Elias and Marcus Buchannan is resolved, but other questions remain unanswered. This is only the beginning of the job Jackson has asked Hazel and Zeke to undertake to save the world from a hideous threat that they don’t yet comprehend. The next step will take them and their friends to London.
Since the story is so long and complicated, I note that there’s a lot more narration from announcer Lester Mayhew (Ken Clement) than usual. These DART episodes tend to go the other way, breaking solid blocks of Lovecraft’s first-person text up into dialog instead of describing actions and transitions.
Things are kept lively with a number of cliffhangers at regular intervals, leading to amusing commercial breaks for the program’s multiple sponsors: good, old Fleur de Lys cigarettes, radium-infused Forhan’s toothpaste, Bile Beans, that invigorating lithium-laced beverage Bub-L-Pep, yummy mint-flavored cod liver oil, and of course Chaosium role-playing games.