In the director’s notes, director/writer/performer Michael Oliver quotes Archibald MacLeish: “A poem should not mean/but be.” I would add, “Or be performed”.
Embodying Poe falls somewhere between poetry reading and historical theater and manages to incorporate the more tedious parts of both art forms. Michael Oliver performs selections of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry with music and visual accompaniment, and the poetry selections are strung together with biographical information about Poe. The “visuals” are PowerPoint-like slides of Hubble telescope images and primitive CGI videos reminiscent of the screensavers of the late 1990s.
The musical compositions, while evocative of the eerie, other-worldly tone of Poe’s poetry, are all very similar sounding and the digital sound production would be much more suited to alien invaders than morose 19th century poetry.
The idea behind the production is an intriguing one, but it fails in the execution. Incorporating the life story of a poet and his motivations for writing into a production alongside that poet’s work could be interesting, but the biographical information in Embodying Poe is too sparse to make a real impact.
Some of the poems that are performed (“The Raven”, “ Silence: A Fable”, “ Ulalume”) lend themselves nicely to dramatic interpretation, while others (“Alone”, “Dreams”, “Dream within a Dream”) are better left on the page.
The main problem seems to be that this production has neither a point of view nor anything particularly interesting to say about the poetry of Poe, and although Michael Oliver is a capable actor, his performance is not powerful enough to justify watching him read poetry for 50 minutes.
Embodying Poe might be worth seeing for an audience member with a deep, abiding love of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry, but for the average person with a fondness for his short stories, “The Raven”, or possibly “ Annabel Lee”, it’s not worth the time.
Embodying Poe has 2 more performances at The Shop – Fort Fringe, 607 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
Jessica rates this a 2 out of a possible 5.