Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s special production of Poe…And All the Others is an imaginative and chilling spectacle, with a creative use of space. With just two actors, a chair, and lighting effects, they create a dark, intimate atmosphere full of the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe. Written by Tony Tsendeas and directed by Sally Boyett, the play delves into the life of the tormented 19th Century author, exploring his writings and his inspiration.
Brian Keith MacDonald plays Poe, walking to the front of the theater’s cabaret space to deliver a lecture on poetry. Dressed in a black jacket and pant, with a black vest and tie, he confidently begins his talk, reciting “The Conqueror Worm,” only to stumble in the middle. At this moment of weakness, She, played by Olivia Ercolano, emerges from the wings. A mysterious figure, wearing a light green dress and long, wild hair, 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 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 Poe brilliantly, full of genius and mental anguish. He falls to his knees and climbs to the chair in pain several times. Throughout the play, while re-enacting his work, his voice gives drama and builds suspense, painting a macabre scene with his words. He interrupts himself during his reciting, remarking that he is “trapped in his own story,” desperately trying to escape 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. Occasionally verging on melodrama, it is still a powerfully compelling performance, like watching a person’s life flash before their eyes before the end.
Ercolano gives a remarkable range to She. In an instant, she transforms from a mysterious, slightly terrifying figure into Virginia, a young, southern girl in love with Poe, and again into Poe’s stepfather, a gruff and stern man angry with Poe, as well as a nurse commenting on his declining condition, and shocked onlookers. Each voice is distinct and immediately recognizable, so that despite the quick shifts, we know who Poe is speaking to. As Virginia, she embraces Poe. During “The Masque of the Red Death” She dances with Poe, alternating narration with him. When he recites “The Raven” She wanders the edge of the stage, gradually creeping closer to him as the poem reaches its climax. When he stumbles in his recitations, She interrupts him, encouraging him to continue. She provides the supernatural element perfectly suitable for a play about Poe.
The theater’s cabaret space is perfectly suited for this production. Small round tables are scattered throughout the space, covered in black tablecloths and short lit candles. At one point, while Poe narrates one of his stories, She goes around and snuffs each candle, gradually darkening the space even further. Poe and She frequently walk between the tables. It allows for a remarkably intimate performance, adding to the mystery and the suspense.
Adam Mendelson has done a wonderful job as Lighting Designer, changing the light to reflect the altering memories and stories. During “The Raven,” the stage is lit with blue light, setting the dark and dramatic mood. When Virginia speaks to Poe, it becomes light red, romantic and loving but with a hint of tragedy. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is lit with dark purples, darkening the stage just enough to create the atmosphere, but light enough for the audience to see. The hospital scenes use “normal” white light, allowing reality to feel harsh compared to the soft, mysterious colors used in the rest of the play.
Sandra Spence has done great work as Costume Designer. Poe’s outfit is dark and brooding, reflecting the author’s torment. She’s dress gives her a spirit-like quality. The costumes add to the spectacle of the performance without distracting from the acting or the story.
Nancy Krebs has helped the actors tremendously as Dialect Coach. The southern accent comes across clearly in MacDonald’s portrayal of Poe without being overwhelming. Ercolano’s male Scottish accent sounds remarkably accurate, and her southern accent as Virginia is a subtle one. They help balance all the other elements of the play while not being obtrusive.
Sally Boyett has done an excellent job as Sound Designer and Director. Mysterious sounds hit the stage throughout the play, adding to the creepy atmosphere. MacDonald and Ercolano work well together, seamlessly flowing from one recollection and recital to the next. While the script is certainly fantastical, they play it perfectly naturally, with a genuine feel. They use every inch of a small space, making it feel larger than it really is. This production shows how intimate spaces can create incredibly powerful theater. All the elements combine into a thrilling, chilling evening, like watching all of Poe’s work come to life. It is a terrific play for Halloween. Only five performances remain, and it deserves a large audience, so be sure to catch it!
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with a 15-minute intermission.
Poe…And All the Others plays from October 23 through November 1, 2017 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company – 1804 West Street in Annapolis. For tickets, call the box office at 410-415-3513 or purchase them online.