Review: ‘Poe … And All the Others’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Poe … And All the Others is an imaginative, entertaining production, with an incredibly creative use of space. With just two people, a minimum of props, and lighting, Annapolis Shakespeare Company creates a dark, atmospheric performance full of the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe. Written by Tony Tsendeas and directed by Sally Boyett, Poe … And All the Others delves into the tormented life of the 19th Century author during his last days.

Brian MacDonald and Renata Plecha. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Brian MacDonald and Renata Plecha. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

At the center of the dining room of Reynolds Tavern stands Poe (Brian Keith MacDonald), delivering a lecture on poetry. Dressed in a black suit, with vest and his famous mustache, he seems to step right out of a portrait. After reciting “The Conqueror Worm,” he appears to stumble for words. This is when She (Renata Plecha) appears. A mysterious figure, wearing a light brown dress and dark makeup, She describes to the audience where they really are: a hospital bed at Washington Medical Center in Baltimore, where the dying writer speaks to himself in a state of delusion. She says enigmatically, “Who I am will become clear, or not, or both,” as she plunges into Poe’s memories, replaying past incidents with his first love Virginia, his disapproving father, and others. In between these scenes, Poe and She act out selections from his poems and stories, including “The Raven,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and others. The writer takes one last look at his life and work as his “tale is nearing its end.”

MacDonald plays a brilliantly anguished Poe. He is fairly quiet and restrained, letting the language carry the drama and weight. Throughout the play, while re-enacting his work, he finds himself “trapped in his own story,” desperately trying to get out of it but unable to. He begins “The Pit and the Pendulum” with the stage in darkness, and like the narrator, gropes around, trying to find his bearings. In “The Cask of Amontillado” he plays Fortunato, the victim, while She plays Montresor, the revenger and the narrator. He laughs hysterically while being walled up, and delivers the famous line “For the love of God, Montresor!” with the right amount of fear and desperation. To have the author not only recite his work but also perform it is a rather eerie experience, as though we are looking directly into his fevered mind.

Plecha is a tremendously talented actress. In an instant, she turns from a dramatic, spirit-like creature into a young, southern girl in love with Poe, and again into a gruff, stern father with a convincing Scottish accent, and a nurse commenting on his declining condition, as well as shocked onlookers. Each voice is distinct and immediately recognizable, so that despite the quick shift in scenes, we know who Poe is talking to. She frequently speaks to the audience, setting the scene and usually humorously commenting on the action. At the end of the first act, She invites the audience to enjoy themselves during the intermission. When the play continues, She tells Poe “Give the people what they want! Their appetite grows!” She wanders around the stage, occasionally, as Virginia, embracing Poe. When he recites “The Raven” She stays on the opposite side of the stage, gradually creeping closer to him as the poem reaches its climax. There are times when She’s style comes near melodrama, but it feels necessary given the dramatic atmosphere, and it forms a nice contrast with Poe’s quieter style.

Adam Mendelson’s wonderful lighting design works perfectly in this play, changing to reflect the altering mood and memories. During the “Pit and the Pendulum,”, blue light shines on the stage, making it just dark enough to feel like a dungeon but light enough for the audience to see the action. When Virginia speaks to Poe, it becomes light red, romantic, and loving but with a whiff of tragedy. There is one brief period of complete darkness, which perfectly captures that moment.

Costume Designer Sandra Spence has done a terrific job dressing Poe and She in outfits that feel authentically mid- 19th Century. They subtly add to the spectacle of the performance without distracting from the acting or the story.

Dialect Nancy Krebs has done fine work with the two actors. The southern accent comes across clearly in MacDonald’s portrayal of Poe without being overwhelming. Plecha’s Scottish accent sounds remarkably accurate, and her southern accent as Virginia is a subtle one.

Brian Keith MacDonald (Edgar Allan Poe). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Brian Keith MacDonald (Edgar Allan Poe). Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Reynolds Tavern might seem at first glance to be an odd place to perform this play, but it turns out to be the perfect setting. A restaurant from colonial times, the rooms have the feel of history, which adds to the feeling of high drama as the play unfolds. The food and drink are also extremely good, with a nice selection among the three-course meal, and served at just the right times, so as to not interrupt the performance. It is dinner theater done exceptionally well.

Sally Boyett is a remarkable Director. The actors work well together, seamlessly flowing from one recollection and recital to the next. They play the script’s fantastical conceit perfectly naturally, and it feels completely real. They use every inch of a rather small stage, making it feel much larger than it really is. This production shows how intimate spaces can create incredibly powerful theater.

Poe … And All the Others is the perfect Halloween play!

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.

Poe … And All the Others plays on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings through November 23, 2016 at the Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing at Reynolds Tavern – 7 Church Circle, in Annapolis, MD. Dinner is served  at 6:30 PM with the performance beginning at 7:30 PM. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.

RATING: FOUR-AND-A-HALF-STARS8.gif

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