The Poe Show: Something to Crow About
I will admit that my knowledge of Edgar Allan Poe and his body of work is very general. I have read at least a few of his classic poems, as well as some of his tales including The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Purloined Letter, and The Tell-Tale Heart. Also present in the popular imagination is the critically acclaimed episode of The Simpson’s in which they adapt one for Poe’s most well known works, The Raven, for their Treehouse of Horror series. All this being said, I partially knew what to expect when walking into Studio Leonard-Beaulne to see Vanity Project Production’s The Poe Show written by David M. Beecroft at this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival: a gothic and macabre drama filled to the brim Poe’s dark romantic language. What I didn’t expect, however, was an incredibly solid piece of theatre that succeeds in making me want to read even more of Poe’s work. Regardless of your prior level of Poe experience, The Poe Show has a lot to offer theatre-goers.
The text itself is inspired by the works of this literary legend. We go through a number of his stories, presented as dreams, and we watch the titular author, played by Jeremy Piamonte, try to reconcile himself with his inner demons and growing madness. To be honest, it reminds me favourably of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in that Poe is visited by a chorus of three female ghosts who bring about these nightmarish visions by first inducing the death of Poe. Each woman incites a different tale and the cyclical nature of these transitions, though not fully understood until the very end, give the text a nice pace.
Director Stewart Matthews does a great job with this piece. It is excellently cast, and the design of the entire production is spot on. Sara Duplancic, Hannah Gibson Fraser, and Anna Lewis are clear stand outs in this show with strong ensemble work as well as being individually compelling. Jeremy Piamonte, the show’s sole male presence, holds his own, and does a good job at embodying Poe’s inner angst and outward rage. I also enjoyed the Romantic acting gestures thrown into the mix. The set and lighting design, by Lyn Cox, is appropriate and adds a little bit of drama without being ostentatious (though I would argue that if this show were to tour, you could very easily do without the door frame). Finally, I have to commend the soundscape, also designed by Matthews, because it does an incredible job at giving the piece it’s feeling of dread and horror.
My only criticism of this show’s staging happens at the very end with all three women helping to give Poe the absolution he’s so desperately looking for. Through the entire show we watch Poe struggle against his ghostly assailants as they each individually strangle or suffocate him, but I felt that at the end, after Poe’s speech about accepting his demise, his subsequent struggle against these characters serves to undermine his words. Though perhaps the argument could be made that the body will naturally struggle in a situation like this, I think if one of the ghosts were to restrain his hands a much more compelling stage picture could be made. I understand the desire to recreate these individual moments on stage, in order to bring the piece full circle, but as it stands, having one actor with a pillow over Poe’s face, another with a belt around his neck, and the third with her hands also around Poe’s neck looks a little awkward.
Ultimately, this is a strong offering from Vanity Project Productions and they should be proud of the show they’ve created. Whether the prospect of experiencing the beautiful language, the captivating stories, or the compelling staging attract you most, this play is definitely worth seeing. I am interested to hear what a real aficionado of Poe’s work thinks about this show, so maybe I’ll leave the comment section open on this one, tell us what you think!