Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Red-Eye to Havre de Grace **

The fact that New York Theatre Workshop recently resorted to an evening of Bacharach songs to fill its stage made me worry a bit that they had lost their creative edge. No need to worry! With this latest production, now in previews, they are back on the edge. This avant-garde musical loosely based on the last days of Edgar Allen Poe is unlike anything else you are likely to see this year (some might add “if you’re lucky”). The very name of the co-producer, Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, suggests that this will be unorthodox fare. In this treatment of his laudanum-laced last months, we see Poe (Ean Sheehy) continually pursued by the ghost of his late wife Virginia (Alessandra L. Larson). The play is introduced amusingly by Ranger Steve (Jeremy Wilhelm), allegedly from the Poe House in Philadelphia, who proceeds to play multiple characters who cross Poe’s path. More importantly, he sings almost all of the show’s songs, which are drawn from Poe’s late poems and letters to his former mother-in-law/aunt, whom Poe affectionally calls “Muddy.” He also plays a mean clarinet. Most of the musical accompaniment is provided by his brother David Wilhelm on two pianos, a deliberately out-of-tune upright and a baby grand. The Wilhelm brothers are the show’s composers and, with director Thaddeus Phillips, its co-creators. Phillips also designed the set, which uses doors and tables to represent a multitude of objects as well as a bed frame floating in midair. In one of the play’s most striking images, Virginia first appears by rising from an opening in the grass beneath Poe’s feet and trying to pull him back into the earth with her. Another highlight is Poe’s memorable reading of “The Raven.” Near the end, the musical version of the poem “El Dorado” is repeated, for reasons unclear to me, in a colorful Spanish version with Larson’s character suddenly on stilts in a bright red gown. That was just one of the many moments I did not grasp. The play seemed increasingly to be spinning its wheels as it progressed. Sheehy is quite affecting as the fading Poe, Larson is evocative in her mostly silent dance role and Wilhelm is a versatile actor with a strong pleasant voice. I admire the creators for their ambition, but I think they lost their way at some point in the play’s 10-year gestation. Running time 95 minutes, no intermission.

P.S. Isherwood loved it in Philadelphia, so you can expect a rave in the Times:]

1 comment:

Philip said...

I saw this last week with a friend who happens to be a serious collector of Poe memorabilia. We enjoyed the beginning as well as the conceit of the piece, but in the end could do nothing more than shrug, although it is for the most part accurate with respect to Muddy and Virginia and, as far as historians can tell, with his last days. But it's hard to explain how a group working for so long on Poe's life got his age at death wrong--he was 40, not 38 (a mistake that Isherwood repeats in his review). In the end,drama will always trump clever staging and eccentricity.