Back in June, when I wrote my review of the McCoy Grands’ production of Seussical the Musicial, I told a story about my nephew preferring Edgar Allen Poe to Dr. Seuss stories. Well, here we are at Halloween and the McCoy Grands’ current production is an evening of Edgar Allen Poe stories. Is this a coincidence, or what?! Dare I asked for “A Tuna Christmas” in my stocking from Santa?
When I was in junior high school, back in the early 1970’s, I was in my horror movie stage of life. This was when “Night of the Living Dead” was in black and white and came on after my bed time on some UHF station with really grainy reception. Around Halloween my brother and I would make sure that my parents attended some church social when the Saturday Night Creature Feature would come on, hoping that we could make it through “Night of the Living Dead”. Of course, we were not about to tell our parents our plan, let alone ask to stay up late for such a purpose. We would only admit to watching “Mary Tyler Moore” and “All in The Family.” But, at 9 p.m. with all of the lights left off, we lay on the floor watching this couple roam through a grave yard while zombies came to smash in their heads and eat them. AHHHHH! But after 10:30, when bodies were strewn all about, we kept one eye on the driveway for the headlights that would signal a quick switch off of the TV, dash to our rooms, and pretending to be asleep. AHHHH!
Some years later, I realized that I had enough trouble with scary dreams that I did not need to feed them any scary movies. So, I know “about” many of Edgar Allen Poe’s stores and poems (I had to memorize a section of “The Raven” in 7th grade, while on Christmas holiday), but I will admit that if I read them it was years ago… well, maybe I read the titles… AHHHHHH!
This Evening with Edgar Allen Poe, at the McCoy Grand Theatre, brings together five of his short stories, interspersed with readings of five of his poems. The cast and crew use the theatre space well for each of the renderings of Poe’s tales. The cast who recite his poems remind me of why literature should be read out loud with an audience for full effect. Our eyes move too quickly over the page and our minds skim too lightly over phrases when we read silently. It is good to speak and listen to well formed poetic lines.
The evening starts with “The Cask of Amontillado”, wherein Keith Miller and Health Hershberger utilize the full theatre, wandering in a drunken stupor up and down the aisles as they lead us into the underground vault where the promised wine is kept chilled. This is a revenge story, in which Montresor (Miller) temps Fortunato (Hershberger) to his grave with the offering of a fine Amontillado wine. Once in the crypt, he literally seals Fortunato demise.
A format of the macabre which Poe developed is the detective mystery. “The Purloined Letter” plays this out with Monsieru Dupin (Derek Barr), Monsieru Daignaulf (Marcus Myers), and Police Prefect (Jacob Smith) sitting in a parlor around a chess table. They discuss a case of political blackmail. On the far side of the stage, Her Highness (Crystal Larson), His Highness (Hershberger), and Prime Minister (Steve Smith) pantomime the crime. The alternation of lighting between the two side of the stage as the story unfolds in dialogue and action works well. While the three men tell the story, they are also playing chess, with various moves advancing or stalling the action, until Dupin dupes the Police, ending the game.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” is one of those creepy non-corpse in the coffin stories. While Roderick Usher (Jacob Smith) and Mr. Rhodes (Ben Smith) banter and battle over Usher’s perceived ailments, his sister, Madeline (Muryssa George) wanders to her death. The question is whether she is actually dead, or cursed with the family demise of appearing dead when not, only to be interned prematurely. While Roderick anguishes over the possibilities, Madeline passes over the threshold of death thrice: dead but not not dead, but dying for being not dead, then bringing the curse to kill her and her twin brother, Roderick. George’s performance, while brief, with no lines and her face nearly concealed behind disheveled hair and shadow filled lighting, captures this story and walks away with the scene. Creepy!
To prevent the evening from becoming much too scary, the next story is “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether”. This farcical dinning scene in the asylum must have been what the cast practiced to unwind after difficult rehearsals. There is too much foolery going on to credit each cast member with, but lets just say that Angel Blizzard’s hosting of LuAnn Edge with a straight face is hillarious, when contrasted against George’s hair twirling, Larson’s chicken pecking, Ben Smith’s champagne bottle popping, Jacob Smith’s slow disrobing, Steve Smith donkey braying, Hershberger’s toad croaking, and Barr’s tea pot polishing…. Well, let’s just say you had to be there.
The final story gives Barr nearly a soliloquy with an Old Man (Steve Smith) and two police officers (Ben Smith and Crystal Larson) around whom Barr, as Mr. Burke, performs. In the “The Tell-Tale Heart”, Mr. Burke sets out the dilemma, his plot with action and precautions he takes against detection, and his guilty confession. As I mentioned earlier, the crew used lighting effectively to illuminate key features in each story. This final story excelled in the timing of red strobe lights to heighten the moment of the murder, and glaring red light at the moment of confession… or, was that the blood pumping with each beat of the tell-tale heart!? AHHHHHH!
The same nephew who likes Edgar Allen Poe gave me his copy of “Frankenstein” earlier this year when we visited. He said that he tried to read it, but his imagination was much to vivid for such a text. So, as a dutiful uncle I brought the book home and put it on my shelf. It is another classic of literature which I have not actually read. But, some nights, I awake at 2 a.m. for a trip to the bathroom. As I doze off to sleep, I hear an electrical crackling and see green sparks coming from that section of the bookshelf, beckoning me to read. AHHHHH!