Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
October 30, 2010
While Halloween is a perfect time to see The Catalyst Theatre's marvelous original production of Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, it should be welcome any time of year. Told in poetic narration and music, this is a stylized, beautifully black telling of Edgar Allan Poe's tragic life.
The work of American writer Edgar Allan Poe, which includes such classics as "The Raven," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Tell-Tale Heart," has attracted generations of fans since his life and untimely death in 1849 and continues to appear in all forms of popular culture. His influence ranges from classic tales of the macabre to the earliest forms of detective novels and science fiction.
That Poe lived a turbulent life and was beset by great misfortune at every turn and died under mysterious circumstances only bolsters his legend. Nevermore brilliantly incorporates myth and high (and mostly low) lights of this life, blending them with surreal nightmarish imagery. This production will stay with you long after this creepy holiday weekend has passed.
The morbid subject matter of Poe's works coupled with his own dark life are obvious fodder for investigation and conjecture. The play suggests that the increasingly depressing aspects of Poe's life, including the deaths of family members from tuberculosis, fueled the darkness in his works. This darkness completely fuels this production. Writer-director-composer Jonathan Christenson blurs the line between fact and fiction in telling Poe's woeful tale and celebrates the man's work all at the same time.
While presented as a family show, the play is extremely black. No edges have been softened in this simplified telling of Poe's life. In fact, just the opposite is true: the play lives in the darkness. The beauty is the telling of the story: the minimal set, the gorgeous costumes, the exquisite acting and singing by the extraordinarily talented cast. Occasionally funny, sometimes downright scary, and often breathtaking, the production is relentless.
Some of Poe's more popular works are alluded to with stunning visual cues. Ravens and ghosts creep about the stage, prematurely buried people bang from inside coffins, and the reach of death is always close by. And there is nary a right angle in the world of Nevermore; all objects are beautifully distorted quadrilaterals.
Particularly haunting are the death scenes of Poe's family members and the true life anecdotes of a sad lonely childhood. This is not Mary Poppins (the Disney production that plays directly across the street).
Laura Krewski's choreography is wonderful. The actors strut and dance, aping each other's movements to express the feelings of the scene. The set design consists of sleek panels of scrim. The eerie atmospheric lighting effects are perfect. Bretta Gedreck's gothic cartoonish costumes are some of the best I have ever seen in a show. Everything, including makeup, is most certainly black.
The cast of seven is of the highest regard. Shannon Blancket, Sheldon Elter, Beth Graham, Ryan Parker, Garett Ross, and Vanessa Sabourin are simply magnificent. They each play a multitude of heroic and villainy characters in Poe's life. Ross is particularly memorable as Poe's foster father as is Graham as various women in Poe's life. Parker is riveting as the chief narrator in the production. Scott Shpeley portrays Edgar, all at once brooding, explosive, and vulnerable. His lovely tenor complements an absolute perfect physical embodiment of Poe.
There's a feeling with this lush musical presentation that Poe lived tragically and created painfully so that we can appreciate his work after his death. And the fictionalized story suggests that Poe may have benefited more from dying than from living.
The only true tragedy for this ingenious, outrageous production, however, is that it's only playing in New York until November 7. See it if you can!