Hear the loud theatrical bells— brazen bells! What tale of terror now, their turbulency tells! In the startled ear of night— amid a Horror Rep of fright— how they scream out with delight— of We Happy Few’s A Midnight Dreary. They clearly keep on ringing, much do the praises that I’m singing, of their Horror Rep’s production of Edgar Allan Poe and his various death knells, and storms that quell, and the ringing…ringing…ringing…of the bells. Directed by Bridget Grace Sheaff, and the second succulent offering in the company’s Horror Rep, A Midnight Dreary offers an explorative glance into Edgar Allan Poe, his work, his life, and just a hint of his madness. (And a definite sip of his private cask.) Dark and dreary, like the midnight, but also spiked with humors lively and vibrant, this is an Edgar Allan Poe experience unlike any other, as you meander the catacombs with Fortunato, peek into the Old Man’s room with the accursed narrator, and attend the masquerade of Prince Prospero. And of course, imbibe liberally from their cask…perhaps it’s— Amontillado?
Unlike Frankenstein, A Midnight Dreary is much more immersive in the sense that you become the active audients who are the figures around who the tale happens. Theatrical devisers Raven Bonniwell, Kerry McGee, Kiernan McGowan, Jon Reynolds, and Bridget Grace Sheaff engage the audience in a different yet equally stimulating fashion with this performance, which is structured around multiple facets of Poe. Specifically, three facets of Poe, as enacted by Kerry McGee, Jon Reynolds, and Alex Turner. Poe wears many masks— the macabre, the morose, the manic, the melancholy, but there is also a humorous side to him, a fastidious side to him, and many more faces of his polyhedral personality.
Everyone seeing any Poe show anywhere almost certainly expects, in one form or another, The Raven. And We Happy Few’s A Midnight Dreary includes this iconic work in their own right. A toast— call and response of “Lenore, Nevermore!” is the homage paid to this done-to-death symbol of Poe. Focusing their literary lasers instead on recognizable yet lesser-performed works like The Mask of Red Death, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Tell Tale Heart. (Arguably, all are o’er done when it comes to putting Poe on the stage, but none so heavily as The Raven and this company’s approach is unlike any experienced by this reviewer in the tri-state area in the last seven years.)
Using his lesser recited poem, “The Bells” as framework that kick-starts the evening’s folly, The Edgar Allan Poe’s three are well versed in enthusiastic storytelling. All three performers are dressed as Poe (complete with varying stages of mustache) and all three take their turns leading one of the three tales. The Mask of Red Death features shared narration and shenanigan-worthy charades, wherein the audience receives masks and are supposed to be the guests of Prince Prospero’s fine revel. Master Lighting Designer Dan Smeriglio puts his craft to excellent work in this telling; every time one of the colored rooms is described or encountered, a mere clap from the performers sends the aforementioned light glowing through the play space.
Audiences will delight in the flamboyant and overtly comical nonsense of Fortunato (played by Alex Turner) as he is led astray by the incensed Kerry McGee, serving as the story’s narrative lead through The Cask of Amontillado. The production keeps its audience members on its feet, but this segment in particular has theatergoers descending* down into the catacombs alongside the narrator and Fortunato to examine the supposed cask. McGee has vivaciously, hyper-animated facial expressions that do wonders for the maddened character of the narrator in this tale. The most beauteous element of this portion of the show is— for those familiar with the tale— how the conclusion creeps upon those watching, and yet we all follow right along to the bitter end as if it were a complete surprise.
The Tell Tale Heart features McGee’s wild eyes back in their sockets in a much more subdued part, playing this time The Old Man. It’s Jon Reynolds turn to lash out in strokes of maniacal malevolence. Each of the three sections of the show— in addition to the interstitial ringing of the bells, and the drinking of the beverages— showcases these three performers’ versatility as well as their passion for Poe. It is truly a remarkable and uniquely engaging experience.
The bells will ring, the heart will beat, the cask will be sealed…and the raven will haunt you if you miss out on this divine production of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s finer works. Catch all three in The Horror Rep if you can, but this one is an absolute must-attend.
Running Time: approximately 60 minutes with no intermission
*no actual descending into the catacombs takes place inside the performance space, though patrons are mobilized throughout the experience. We Happy Few has accommodations for guests needing assistance with mobilization.
A Midnight Dreary plays through November 10, 2018 at a party of The Horror Rep with We Happy Few in residence at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop— 545 7th Street SE in Washington, DC. Tickets are available at the door or in advance online.
To read the TheatreBloom review of Frankenstein, click here.