Review: POE at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

TheatreBloom rating:

There are some secrets that do not permit themselves to be told. Arising from the grave ruins of memory, a world premier work takes to the stage with Annapolis Shakespeare Company this autumn. POE, as written by Gregory Thomas Martin and Directed by Sally Boyett, explores the final moments of Edgar Allan Poe before his untimely descent into the permanence of madness and death. Situated inside the charming historic 1747 Pub in the cellars of Reynolds Tavern, the atmosphere is chilling and divine. The perfect combination for a midnight calling dark and dreary even if the evening’s events begin at half past six.

Brian Keith MacDonald (left) as Edgar Allan Poe and Renata Plecha (right) as ElizaAnnapolis Shakespeare Company
Brian Keith MacDonald (left) as Edgar Allan Poe and Renata Plecha (right) as Eliza

The performance is draped across only two performers, Brian Keith MacDonald as Edgar Allan Poe and Renata Plecha who serves as the Barkeep, Eliza, and the unearthly muse that torments Poe’s dreams and nightmares. The arranging of this casting on Plecha’s behalf, whether a noted intention of the playwright or collaborative effort of the Director, serves the show well and furthers the source and extent of the madness as it consumes Poe over the course of the performance. The tavern setting is atmospheric, blood red candles lit at every table, the main lighting purposefully low so that this experience of a show can be felt in all of its natural glory.

Drawing the mark of reality into Gregory Thomas Martin’s script, Director Sally Boyett fastens the audience to the scene like an active extension of Poe’s mind. Whether the audience is actually the members of the pub in that fateful final evening or merely whom Poe presumes he is seeing amid his daze and confusion, it is uncertain, but the effect is the same. Boyett pushes the lines of interactivity by choosing the intimate space and working MacDonald into the personal space of the patrons as much as possible without deliberately plowing through the fourth wall. It is delivered with subtlety, a casual grace of entreating the audience into the world of the play, wherein vision and experience become one.

Brian Keith MacDonald as Edgar Allan Poe in POE at Annapolis Shakespeare CompanyAnnapolis Shakespeare Company
Brian Keith MacDonald as Edgar Allan Poe in POE at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

Martin’s work takes an unusual approach to Poe’s final moments inside the tavern, displaying some of the author’s most recognizable works in a series of frenzied poetic recitations. Featured most prominently are the works The Raven and Annabel Lee. Martin sets the show in motion with Poe scribbling Annabel Lee in the tavern, an ironically beautiful fit to his final moments as it is the last known completed poem to have surfaced from Poe. The way Martin bends and blends the words of the iconic man exposes a scholarly knowledge of both his craft and his subject matter. A unique presentation, Martin unearths a deeper meaning to the mere madness that is so often attributed to Edgar Allan Poe.

Resident Vocal Coach Nancy Krebs graces the piece with her signature of subtlety. Poe’s dialect has only hints of the southern sound that guided his voice, flaring into a thicker accent when his emotions take reign of his mouth. The mellowed accent is a nod to his travels as well as his temper. Krebs also assists in the distinction created between Plecha’s three characters, and while her Muse and her Eliza share the same accent, their cadence, pitch, and lilt differ drastically from one another. It’s Krebs’ work with Plecha’s Barkeep that is most impressive; the perfect hint of Baltimore accent delivered on key words like ‘water’ during her brief exchanges with the strange and mysterious man who has taken up residence in her tavern for the evening.

Renata Plecha as Eliza in POE at Annapolis Shakespeare CompanyAnnapolis Shakespeare Company
Renata Plecha as Eliza in POE at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

Renata Plecha finds three very different approaches to each of her characters, a mark of her talent that serves the show well. When gooey-eyed with love, her posture is upright and her eyes alight with joy, her voice lilting dreamily along as she professes such tender notions to Edgar. This is clearly her Eliza. Juxtaposing that delicate waif of a spirit against the darkened dead Eliza, credited at Muse, her eyes somehow sink into themselves and her entire body appears to wither without physically falling apart. The energy that she channels as this tormented ghastly apparition is haunting and strong, her face often unblinking in these moments, leading to further horrific images of the nightmares that Poe sees in her. Her portrayal of the Barkeep is perhaps the most interesting because of the way which she purposefully disengages with Poe. Task-oriented in her daily grind, a mindful ear and occasionally wandering eye passes him over while he rants and raves and carries on in his fashion, making her receptive deliver most intriguing.

The chemistry that works between Plecha and Brian Keith MacDonald fits the mournful and melancholy mood of the evening. Though their moments of shared delight across professions of love are indeed cheery and bursting with brightness, they are few and far between. Martin finds the balance of these levities against heavy bouts of Poe’s dreary existence and this tempered settling of the two makes for a perfect extrapolation of Poe’s internal workings. When the pair begin to shout over one another, with Plecha as the dead-darkened muse, the intensity with which they growl their texts to one another is gripping.

Brian Keith MacDonald as Edgar Allan Poe in POE at Annapolis Shakespeare CompanyAnnapolis Shakespeare Company
Brian Keith MacDonald as Edgar Allan Poe in POE at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

MacDonald possesses just the slightest hint of an infection of mania at the top of the show, perpetually incubating beneath his character’s surface, though it does not take him long to expose it. Waxing poetic in moments of nostalgic recollection, MacDonald invites the audience into his stimulated senses when it comes to the fond memories of Eliza. MacDonald has a fascinating knack for encapsulating these bubbles of his recollections and letting them burst fully before bleeding into the present moment’s reality. Ever present in his textual delivery is a frenetic fervor that sweeps his words along much like an undercurrent pulling his mind apart at the seams. By the top of the second act the madness has seeped through his words, into his face, down over his body and out into the room. Watching these harrowing moments play out in tortured ecstasy across his facial features is truly frightening. Scrabbling and clinging to shreds of sanity by the production’s end, MacDonald has mesmerized, if not truly terrified, the audience completely.

A curious undertaking, with Martin’s articulate vision of Poe’s morbid imagery creeping throughout the play, POE is a gem this autumn that ought to be taken in before it can be found nevermore.    

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours once the show begins, including one intermission. Dinner starts one half hour prior to curtain

POE plays through November 25, 2015 on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with Annapolis Shakespeare Company in the 1747 Pub of Reynolds Tavern— 7 Church Circle in historic downtown Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 415-3513 or purchase them online.


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