He stands amid the roar of a surf-tormented shore, and all that he sees and seems is but a dream within a dream. Appropriate as the autumnal offering and 2016-2017 season starter at Annapolis Shakespeare Company as they roost in residence at Reynolds Tavern just off the city dock shore on Church Circle for the world premiere of Tony Tsendeas’ POE…and All the Others. Directed by Sally Boyett, this newly imagined take on Baltimore’s master of the macabre is an absurd burlesque of memory, madness, and marvel. Besprinkled with horror, nostalgia, and delirium, Tsendeas’ show possesses a most unusual magnificence in its ability to captivate the mind, ensnare the senses, and tease theatergoers into the unraveling world of Edgar Allan Poe’s final moments.
Set in one of the main dining rooms of the historic Reynolds Tavern, with a stellar Prefix menu seasonally attuned, the show is but brief and yet manages to fully capture the essences of madness, malady, and macabre all in one fell swoop, not unlike a raven’s feather drifting from aloft. Tony Tsendeas’ script is at best described as an indecipherable tangle of Poe’s most intimate moments, most memorable stories, and most bewildering thoughts. Generally, the words indecipherable and tangle do not coincide with praise but in this case they best fit the indescribably non-linear journey of the evening’s tale and are an accurate representation of how thoroughly Tsendeas ensconces the madness of Poe into the heartbeat of the show.
The tapestry which Tsendeas weaves with his script is one of jarring darkness and thrilling suspense, uniquely juxtaposed against the intimate setting of the tavern’s main dining room. Though the show is not immersive in the sense that it invites the audience to partake, there is definitely a pulse that beats between performers and audience, between text and theatergoers which Tsendeas has added to the experience of the work. Presenting Poe as a madman on the brink of his sanity is nothing new, but Tsendeas starts the show with a rarely witnessed lucid Poe, plunging him in and out of the malady of his final moments through recall and echoes of moments past. The most eccentrically intriguing thread found in the work is the notion of Poe becoming trapped in his own stories, reliving them as if he has become the characters themselves while simultaneously being conscientiously aware that he is still the creator. This is a bold manner in which to include more than just crowd favorites— like The Raven— and the passages which Tsendeas chooses to include— from The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask of Amontillado, Masque of the Red Death, and others— illustrate his keen sense of poetry in addition to delivering some of the finest sampling of Poe’s work all in one show.
The words and delivery thereof, in their indecipherable timeline are focused through the lenses of light and darkness. Lighting Designer Adam Mendelson makes exceptional use of various shades and colors, applying warmer hues to fonder memories that feature Virginia, and complete darkness to inspire terror when the more chilling moments settle upon Poe. This constant shift in light has no rhyme or reason to its discourse, much like the ordering of the show, but serves its purpose just the same, and keeps the audience well informed of where in the madness we stand at any given moment.
Director Sally Boyett makes use of the intimate space in such a way that the audience is able to feel a part of the performance without ever being fully engaged with by the players. Though there are moments when some of the blocking seems to wither— a few oddly placed segments of stillness when the text and interaction appears to call for motion— on the whole these do not detract too much from the experience. Boyett pushes the ‘She’ character (enacted by Renata Plecha) into a grotesque carnival barker of sorts; all but howling— and at times a bit too intensely— at the onlookers whenever she intends to show that death shall be the final outcome of this momentary trip into delirium. While this is a bit heavy handed with symbolic intent, it is not entirely unpleasant and sets the tone of the evening early on.
Plecha, with the assistance of Voice and Dialect Coach Nancy Krebs, finds herself taking on at least half a dozen characters over the course of the evening, using a different vocal affectation or accent to distinguish between them. Her rapid switching from playing characters like Fanny, Edgar’s sweetly southern step-mother, to John Allan, Edgar’s Scotch-Irish furious father, is a tremendous mark of her vocal talent when it comes to accent consistency. Plecha, who moves with grace even when she’s stalking about the space as the ‘She’ character, follows through each moment with deliberate intent, keeping all of the spirits she imbues present and effectively haunting in each interaction she shares with her stage companion, Brian Keith MacDonald.
Baring the arduous task of Poe upon his shoulders, MacDonald does a standup job of not merely impersonating the dark and dreary poet, but channeling the disconnect between himself as Poe, Poe as Poe, Poe as the characters trapped within his stories, and the many other faces and facets that the character encounters in Tsendeas’ work. This dynamic portrayal of Edgar becomes somewhat of a carousel, revolving languidly but with just enough force to disorient. One moment he is trapped within his own mind, and further still within his own mind’s creations, desperate for escape and deeply troubled and the next he is reliving a memory or reciting a verse as if he were removed from the moment entirely. This tumultuous shift in character is what keeps the performance MacDonald gives both intriguing and entrancing.
All stories come to an end, and so too will POE…and All the Others on the 23 of November, 2016. It would be unwise to delay in finding tickets to this event as the venue has limited seating for each evening of the performance.
Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes with one intermission
POE…and All the Others plays on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings through November 23, 2016 with the Annapolis Shakespeare Company at Reynolds Tavern— 7 Church Circle in historic downtown Annapolis, MD. Dinner starts at 6:30pm and the show starts at 7:30pm. For tickets please call the box office at (410-415-3513) or purchase them online.