Pandemonium’s Workhouse Arts Center could not have been more well-suited for Nevermore, a dark and intimate musical about the life of Edgar Allan Poe, with music by Matt Conner and the book by Grace Barnes, and hauntingly directed by Jeffrey Davis. Poe is no doubt a complicated character to explore, and Conner does a great job of establishing the mood of particular scenes with the music and themes he sets to Poe’s poems and writings, and Barnes’ dialogue gives the characters the depth and voice they deserve.
The W-3 Theatre at the Workhouse Arts Center is small and the audience is close enough to the stage to immerse themselves in the story, feeling the impact of every quiet beat and breath from the performers.
The show is ninety minutes long with no intermission, so I’m going to assume that Christopher Shaw, who plays Edgar Allan Poe, sleeps for the other twenty two and a half hours a day – because otherwise I cannot imagine how he has the energy for the feat of playing the angst-filled and haunted Poe, who does not leave the stage and is actively engaged with other characters for the entire duration of the production. Shaw is captivating, projecting the inner turmoil and inherent selfishness of Poe, and seamlessly shifting between the past and present as he takes us through Poe’s memories of the women who impacted his life most. His rendition of ‘Dreams”is heart-wrenching. His duet “To My Mother” sung with Mary Payne, who plays his mother, is filled with beautiful harmonies.
The rest of the cast is on for most of the show as well, either engaged with Poe in his memories or acting as ghosts in the periphery, always somehow involved in the scene. Their voices blended intriguingly in the group numbers and uniquely on their own, with notable performances by all.
Barbara Lawson shines as Virginia, the thirteen-year-old cousin and young bride of Poe. She brings to life the youthful passion and morbid curiosity of the character, as well as her devotion to Poe. She provided beautiful renditions of “Bridal Ballad” and the melodic “Annabel Lee.”
Kathleen McCormack brings depth to the character of Elmira, the long-lost childhood love of Poe’s who later reconnects with him. She too rises to the challenge of playing a character who ages throughout the musical, presenting us both with a naïve and hopeful young Elmira and an Elmira twenty years later, who has suffered hardship but not without losing the optimism of her girlhood. She delivers an emotional rendition of “Silence.”
Kristen Jepperson is the show’s triple threat, but not in the way you’d expect – she sings, acts, and plays the harp. All at the same time. This added a fascinating element to her portrayal of Muddy, Virginia’s mother, who she played with such heartbreaking realism that I walked out of there with the unshakable notion that Lawson was actually her daughter. She delivered a gorgeous and powerful performance of ‘El Dorado.’
Mary Payne delivers the complicated role of Poe’s mother, who is more a figment of Poe’s imagination than a real figure, which Payne portrays well with the mix of motherly and taunting behavior toward him. She delivers a heart-warming lullaby called “Evening Star” and joins Shaw in the finale of “Dreams.”
The most underutilized performer in the production was Karissa Swanigan, who entranced the audience with a sensual and grounded performance as a character identified as Whore, who is confident and street-smart and coolly indifferent to Poe’s madness. Her performances of “El Dorado” and “Dreamland” were beautifully sung and mesmerizing.
The orchestra, including Jason Labrador on violin, Darion J. Roberts on viola, Timothy D. Thulson on cello, Brandon Heishman on Keyboard and as well as conducting, and of course, Jepperson on the harp, was nothing short of flawless. They are also entirely visible for the duration of the show, and every bit as part of the show as the performers onstage, and they effortlessly set the tone of every scene and number. Shout-out to Jepperson, who in one instance not only played the harp and delivered heart-wrenching lines as Muddy, but also casually reached up and tuned a miscreant string on the harp in one casual tweak.
The show itself was composed by local artist Matt Conner, with the book written by Grace Barnes. Poe is no doubt a complicated character to explore, and Conner does a great job of establishing the mood of particular scenes with the music and themes he sets to Poe’s writings, and Barnes’s dialogue gives the characters the depth and voice they deserve.
Designers Jeffrey Davis and Mary Payne Omohundro created impacting images in this musical, even with a static set and minimal space. The floor and tables are littered with Poe’s books and writings, an external representation of the chaos in his mind, and although there is no dancing in the production, the choreography of the characters creates satisfying moving visuals and symmetry. The lighting too was so suited to the mood of each particular scene that the audience is too wrapped up in the apprehension of the dialogue to even realize that it is changing.
If you are looking for something gritty and haunting this Halloween season, then Nevermore is a musical you must see. You will want to look up poems and stories you haven’t read since high school, and it will give you a new appreciation for one of America’s most visionary poets.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Nevermore plays through October 10, 2014 at Pandemonium Theatrical Productions performing at W-3 Theatre at the Workhouse Arts Center – 9601 Ox Road, in Lorton, VA. For tickets, call (703) 584-2900, or purchase them online. Tickets are $30, and $25 for Students, Seniors, and Military.
‘Nevermore’ Opens Tomorrow at Pandemonium Theatrical Productions Performing at Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, VA by David Siegel.
Here are directions.
Pandemonium Theatrical Production’s facebook page.