What better author to usher in Halloween then Edgar Allan Poe, America's premier Gothic writer whose numerous works, if monetarily unsuccessful, include science fiction, detective stories, and tales of grisly, supernatural, and disturbing psychological disorders.
After being shuttered for a year and a half, Classical Theatre Company throws open its doors to reveal the dank and dark recesses of this most troubled original, Nevermore: Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, playing though October 17 at the DeLuxe Theatre. Adapted by Chris Iannacone and director John Johnston, Nevermore, an anthology, dramatizes three short stories: The Tell-Tale Heart, William Wilson, The Fall of the House of Usher, and Poe's most famous poem The Raven. None are entirely successful at delivering required shudders or psychological probing.
Poe's style is notoriously difficult to visualize. His prose is elaborate and deeply Victorian, rivaling Dickens in its circuitous wordiness and filigree. It's a pleasure to read and hear, for it comes from another world and definitely a different time when you could curl up near the coal grate and immerse yourself – lose yourself – in thick, knotty plots with words to match. Their works are good reads, unsuitable for the beach or instant gratification.
The greatest pleasure of Nevermore is listening to Poe's phrasing, his language, his tight control of atmosphere, his insights into the human mind. He's a poet of the lost, the damned, the peculiar. Three of these tales are narrated by particularly flawed people: a madman or woman, Poe does not tell, who confesses to the murder and dismemberment of an old man who's gimlet eye offends him/her in Tell-Tale Heart; a man chased through his life of debauchery by his doppelganger in William Wilson; a man deep in mourning over his lost love Lenore who's visited by a “Nevermore”-quoting raven in The Raven. In Usher, the narrator is an old school friend who witnesses the descent into madness of the Usher twins, brother and sister. He's the only “normal” protagonist.
Classical's answer to Poe's thorny interior musings and intense physical details gives us three Storytellers (Gabriel Regojo, Marc Alba, and Hayley Dugan) who portray the characters, then embody Poe's asides, and then double as stagehands who rearrange the black-painted furniture between tales. As they do, they move stealthily and glower at us. It's creepy but not as spooky as intended. It's meta-theatrics as meta-physicality.
Heart is wounded by the intense screaming that passes for drama and the quickness of the climax; Usher is thrown out of whack by a long discordant song wailed by Roderick; Raven is plagued by a stuffed bird on a pole that bespeaks neither doom nor fateful memory. Only William Wilson with its double protagonist, one of Poe's rarer works, is done justice. It's the most satisfying, if only somewhat disquieting.
And why does everyone stand on chairs? What does that mean?
Other than Poe's dank language, the evening is saved by Jon Harvey's lush and eerie sound design – those heart beats, those electro-sync jazz riffs, those thrums of a demented mind, the collapse of an ancient manor house. Now this is creepy stuff and what the evening should inspire. Liz Freese's set design is minimalist goth (all that black); Mark A. Lewis's lighting adeptly conjures windows flung open or backlit doorways; and Leah Smith's costumes cry Victorian steampunk. I'd suggest ironing those tail coats, though, to remove the creases left from costumes folded in a bag on a shelf.
In honor of Halloween, Nevermore isn't much of a treat and not much of a trick, either. We were more chilled by the air conditioning.
Nevermore: Tales of Edgar Allan Poe continues through October 17. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2:30 Sundays; 8 p.m Monday, October 11 (Industry Night). Classical Theatre Company, 3303 Lyons Avenue. Proof of vaccine at the door. Masks required. For more information call 713-963-9665 or visit classicaltheatre.org. $10-$25.