E A Poe

Mon 8th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

Rachel Lovibond

at 08:37 on 9th Aug 2011

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As an American who was educated in Scotland for five years, Edgar Allen Poe’s life and works was a suitable choice for the American High School Theatre Festival to bring the fringe. The performance consisted of interplay between Poe’s own life and his short stories, with ‘The Raven’ being narrated throughout. This interplay was effective in demonstrating the biographical features which may have influenced Poe’s writing and showed the progressive deterioration of his mental state as a writer in relation to his work. The extent of this influence was perhaps exaggerated by the script but transitions between biography and fiction were seamlessly performed.

The character of Poe was dressed as a Dracula-esque figure, with an inexplicable Hitler moustache. The stage was set in an appropriately gothic manner and there appeared to be a great amount of attention to detail with costume and set design, rendering the overall visual aspect of the stage professional and polished.

Zach Hebert was, for the most part, haunting in his delivery of Poe’s lines, although occasionally his anger came across as quite spoiled and petulant, which detracted from his character as a whole. It was also quite difficult to hear the individual voices of the chorus reciting ‘The Raven’, as often they were drowned out by background music and the play could be much better if the timing of music and speech was more coordinated.

The performance was partially presented through a projection of images onto a screen behind the stage, which was an interesting effect, although some of the stories could have benefited from being conveyed solely through acting. For example, the rendition of ‘The Black Cat’ was made to be far less frightening by the looming image of a cartoon bloody axe behind the characters.

The ending unfortunately made the entire production a little cheesy, with the chorus drawing out the vowels of the final ‘nevermore’ before 'death', dressed in a cape, red bat-man-esque mask and red feather hat, concluded the poem and the play.

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Joe Nicholson

at 08:46 on 9th Aug 2011

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As somebody who is familiar with the works of Edgar Allen Poe, I was curious to see how these famous tales of the gothic and the macabre would be interpreted on stage, and how the colourful (to say the least) life of the author would be represented. As the play began, the audience was confronted by an elaborate set, laden with haunted house tropes and what you might expect from a children's ghost story. Bare branches and backlit windows set an effective atmosphere, even if in a rather clichéd way.

The play continued with a chorus of “spirits” around Zach Hebert’s Poe, all dressed in the predictable rags with corpse-effect make-up, perhaps pushing the supernatural element of the production too far by making it that little bit too obvious. The play balances biographical elements with actors narrating some of the author’s more famous short stories, the latter decision working much better than the former, and really proving the best aspect of the whole production. Poe’s stories are often written in the first person, and this quality is exploited to good effect on stage. The Black Cat and the Tell-Tale Heart were played out extremely well, with music used to evoke great tension, including interesting use of gruesome projections on the rear curtain. Mary Schreier and Laura Duncan were also very memorable, engineering a near-tangible sense of unease and fear in the audience with their professional take on Poe’s Berenice.

The balancing of the biographical threads in the performance with the interpretations of the short stories worked relatively well, despite the director’s deciding to exaggerate the links between the texts and Poe’s own life. This was taken too far when the play was concluded after a presentation of The Masque of the Red Death, Poe’s famous allegorical work, portrayed literally by placing Poe and dead figures from his past in the masquerade. The disclaimer in the programme, that the action of the play deviates from biography to “the deep recesses of Poe’s mind” doesn’t quite manage to support this decision. This episode was, nevertheless, created well on stage, with a sinister dance and a good evocation of the dreaded clock which is the focus of the story. I felt however that the choice to portray such an ostentatiously allegorical tale in such biographical terms was an awkward blunder.

The conclusion of the play does not do the cast or the performance justice at all: a potentially very effective reading of Rufus Griswald’s obituary of Poe was ruined by a nearly farcical death scene. Overall, though, E A Poe: Into The Mind of Madness showed signs of potential, with many strong actors- both Zach Hebert and Ryan Bickett especially (playing old and young Poe) showing talent. Even if the core concept of the play often took certain episodes too far, many parts of the performance were played out skillfully: thoroughly gripping in true Poe style.

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