Review: ‘Nevermore’ at Creative Cauldron

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Creative Cauldron’s production of the musical Nevermore places the work of 19th-century writer, poet and literary critic Edgar Allan Poe at your feet. With music by Matt Connor, and Book by Grace Barnes adapted from the writing of Edgar Allan Poe, this exploration of Poe’s life relies on fact and fantasy to examine the essence of creativity, and the motivation behind imaginative endeavor.

Clockwise from Center: Katherine Riddle as Mother, Jennifer Pagnard as Muddy, Erin Granfield as Elmira, Sara Hurley as Virginia, Stephen Gregory Smith as Edgar Allan Poe, and Mary Kate Brouillet as the Whore in Nevermore. Photo Credit: Keith Waters/Kx Photography
Clockwise from Center: Katherine Riddle as Mother, Jennifer Pagnard as Muddy, Erin Granfield as Elmira, Sara Hurley as Virginia, Stephen Gregory Smith as Edgar Allan Poe, and Mary Kate Brouillet as the Whore in Nevermore. Photo Credit: Keith Waters/Kx Photography.

The narrative highlights linear landmarks of Poe’s life, from his move to Baltimore to live with his Aunt Clemm, a marriage to his young cousin Virginia, his friendship with Elmira and finally to his death. Five women mark Poe’s journey between inspiration and obsession told through 15 musical numbers and text that references the short stories “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy.”

Katherine Riddle, as Poe’s mother Eliza, who died when her son Edgar was 3 years old, looms large. She appears as a comforting or precarious vision from Poe’s imagination and we see her move in and out of his thoughts. Elmira, played by Erin Granfield, is Poe’s childhood friend, a first love, many years later reunited and pledged to marry.

There is an element of slipperiness with the characters, and none more so than the lively and affectionate Virginia, played by Sarah Hurley. Virginia, at the age of 13, has married her cousin Edgar despite the objections of her mother, Muddy, played by Jennifer Lyons Pagnard. In “To My Mother” Muddy, Edgar and Mother deliver three streams of intertwining voices offering reflections of the mother-never-known, and the mother of Poe’s beloved Virginia.

Stephen Gregory Smith as Edgar Allan Poe is a man set adrift by passion yet grounded by weakness. In “Eldorado” he joins with The Whore, played by Mary Kate Brouillet, and their voices combine in a sweet journey. As they sing, Smith embraces Brouillet wielding a writing instrument, the feather quill, with which he indulgently scans her body. She represents a dual identity, both attraction and comfort, and a darkness or bad habit. Smith is commanding as Poe at this moment and he fully embodies the role throughout, especially in the Ensemble number “Annabel Lee” or with Hurley in “Bridal Ballad.”

Actors use a single feather or, in “The Raven,” many feathers to emphasize words and action. Repeated motifs, and sometimes too many bodies, distract in the small space. Slow dream-like rotations by the actors in the downstage right corner become less effective as they reiterate. The scenes that take place on the floor (and Smith is often in repose), are unseen or limited for audience members seated on the second and third riser.

Elevating the action is Scenic Design by Margie Jervis which echoes the notion of Poe’s travel between the cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. A capsized boat structure serves as a vehicle to different locations, to the passage of time or to interactions with the women who anchor the story. Costumes, also by Jervis, are period perfect with a creative edge; ruffled layers attached to pants, a decorated boned corset for Brouillet, cage crinoline, and low shoulder necklines.

Mary Kate Brouillet as the Whore and Stephen Gregory Smith as Edgar Allan Poe in Nevermore. Photo Credit: Keith Waters/Kx Photography.
Mary Kate Brouillet as the Whore and Stephen Gregory Smith as Edgar Allan Poe in Nevermore. Photo Credit: Keith Waters/Kx Photography.

Nevermore represents Edgar Allan Poe and the Romantic period of American literature at its core. Poe is known for his stories of mystery and for leading a mysterious life. Poe as a writer advanced his art form, and we wonder about him, about his life, what motivated those dark stories that are macabre but simultaneously cherished. Like most of history, a factual telling of Poe’s life and interactions is open to interpretation, and Nevermore delivers an insightful picture of some of the people who may have inspired the creative genius of discovery.

Music Direction is by Jenny Cartney with musicians Jenny Cartney, piano; Jeff Thurston, violin; and Aron Rider, Cello. Lighting Design is by Lynn Joslin. The Scenic Assistant is Sara Gomppers.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Nevermore plays through October 28, 2018, at Creative Cauldron, 410 S Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 703-436-9948, or purchase them online.

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