The Phenomenal Animals, in conjunction with Capital Fringe 2018, present, Tales of The Mysterious and Grotesque: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, an original work by Robert Cousins, directed by Savannah Verrette. While the actors show a lot of talent and potential in this piece, the unfortunate staging and hurried condensing of the material left much to be desired.
Tales is likely one of the most ambitious Fringe shows as far as its technical elements. Its detailed set, designed by Briana Litteral and crafted by Jimmy Baynard, consists of several pieces, including large velvet loungers and fragile, gauzy drapes. Sound design by Rob Thompson and James Kaplanges fills the space with eerie, almost hypnotic music. What’s unfortunate here is that this piece was obviously designed with a much bigger space in mind.
Known for its intimate stages, Capital Fringe leaves little room to work with and around. The actors are practically in the audience’s laps, which is troublesome when your scenes require a lot of movement and noise. The resulting effect caused many awkward, uncomfortable moments for both the cast and its audience. Enthusiastic audience participation was also stressed in the show’s advertisements, but when it came down to it, the actual participation contributed nothing of value to the show itself. Audience members were prompted to contribute menial poses or sounds and were then quickly dismissed.
Select scenes from some of Poe’s most unsettling stories, including Berenice, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, and The Pit and the Pendulum are merged in this piece, with four actors juggling Poe’s famous macabre characters, including Brandon Walls as Perverse, Jacob Wheatley as Mysterious, Lucy Bond as Merry, and Olivia Litteral as Grotesque.
The material here is heavy, dense, and extremely verbose. And, because of strict time enforcement, it’s also rattled off by the cast with the speedy air of an auctioneer. When such intense material is condensed so strongly, the audience had no time to absorb or appreciate it.
That’s not to say that the performances themselves weren’t enjoyable. Lucy Bond portrays a humorous drunkard, Jacob Wheatley’s hyper, giddy mesmerist is especially creepy, and Brandon Walls takes on a number of unhinged characters, making the walls of the small space shake with his fits of anger and violence. However, the best performance of the evening easily goes to Olivia Litteral, who handled each of her characters with raw talent and verve. Her manic expressions and deliveries are downright chilling, and I believed she channeled her characters in a way that would make Poe himself very proud…and unnerved.
When it comes down to it, the talent is impressive, but the handling of the overall content is not. More time, space, and consideration should be allowed for this project.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
Tales of The Mysterious and Grotesque: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe plays through July 27, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church: Gold Theater – 555 Water Street, SW, in Washington, DC. Purchase your tickets online.