Edgar Allan Poe remains an object of mystery and speculation over 150 years after his death. Best known for his chilling short stories and his achingly tragic poetry, Poe’s personal life is also subject to close scrutiny. Marylanders in particular are fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe’s life and legacy, as he had the misfortune to die of mysterious causes in Baltimore. In his honor, the Baltimore football team was named for his most famous work. Given Mr. Poe’s rather sordid history with the state of Maryland, it seems fitting that POE by Gregory Thomas Martin should have its world premiere in Annapolis, Maryland.
The 1747 Pub in the basement of Reynold’s Tavern in historic downtown Annapolis is the perfect venue for this intimate performance. Originally constructed in 1737, the tavern retains an authentic period feel. The 1747 Pub is lit by candle-shaped electric lights in wall braziers with solid brick floors and dark wood furnishings. An antiqued mirror hangs behind the bar and against one wall there is a large hearth. It is not a stretch of the imagination to picture Edgar Allan Poe scribbling away in a corner. Luckily for us, you don’t have to.
The action begins rather unassumingly; suddenly, a man appears at a table. How long he may have been there it is hard to say. Slowly, one begins to realize this is not another diner or theater-goer. The gentleman is scribbling away furiously at an antique-looking travel writing desk with a quill pen. Edgar Allan Poe (Brian Keith MacDonald) has surreptitiously snuck into the world of the living. A woman enters wearing a fitted bodice and a long, full skirt. Her outfit is so utterly out of our time that it silences that any lingering conversation instantly.
The woman in the exquisitely constructed two-piece day dress is Renata Plecha. She is the second and only other cast member. Throughout the play she wears three faces; that of the long-suffering Barkeep, Poe’s mysterious Muse and the ill-fated Eliza. It is incredible to watch Renata Plecha change her face and voice so completely as she transitions from role to role. With subtle faces changes she can appear as sweet and innocent as a young bride and in an instant, as stoic as a marble effigy. Every time she turns around, it is though a new person is on stage.
POE follows the title character through the dark period between the death of his wife and his own tragic end. The play follows Edgar Allan Poe through a night of drinking, writing and lamenting his lost Lenore. The Bar Keep intrudes upon Poe’s memories on occasion with another drink or to clean up his latest mess or to suggest that perhaps he has had enough to drink. POE is as dark, weird and thought-provoking as its namesake.
Brian Keith MacDonald is nearly unrecognizable as Edgar Allan Poe. With wild hair and wilder eyes, MacDonald is a man with nothing left to lose. MacDonald’s Poe is the ultimate schadenfreude. It feels morbid watching his tragedy unfold, but despite your human decency you cannot avert your eyes.
Edgar Allan Poe’s brooding poetry is liberally sprinkled throughout POE. Of course, “The Raven” is mentioned. Poe bemoans how popular “The Raven” is questions why it is so much more popular than his other works. “Annabel Lee”, arguably Poe’s second most popular poem and argued by some to be his last poem, drives much of the plot. “The Happiest Day,”, “The Conqueror Worm,” and others are also quoted.
Costumes by A.T. Jones and Son were extraordinarily well-made and well-researched. Brian Keith MacDonald’s costume appears to have been pulled directly from photographs of Edgar Allan Poe. Nancy Krebs vocal coaching was excellent. Each of Renata Plecha’s characters has a different accent and inflection. Sally Boyett’s direction makes the audience feel that they have stepped back in time and into Poe’s private thoughts.
A three-course dinner is included with the ticket price. All of the food served by Reynold’s Tavern is delightful. The food chosen for the show’s menu is filling, flavorful, and seasonally appropriate.
POE is a suitable entertainment for the Halloween season, especially for lovers of his poetry.
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with one 10-minute intermission.
POE plays on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings through November 25, 2015 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company performing in the 1747 Pub of Reynolds Tavern— 7 Church Circle, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 415-3513 or purchase them online.