Though its source material—Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous short story, and one of its core conventions, the idea that two people may become linked via organ donation or blood transfusion—are familiar, Grain of Sand Theatre’s Tell-Tale manages to present something all together new. And, perhaps more importantly, encourages the audience to view reality and experience theatre from a unique perspective.
Director Carl Brandt Long says that to create this script, playwright Hunter Styles “reconstructed Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, told from multiple points of view.” Seeing the play, it becomes clear that Styles did more than that; he ground its elements into a very fine dust and sprinkled them over his own composition with a judicious hand, so that, while having prior knowledge of the story may make for a heightened audience experience, it’s most certainly not a pre-requisite to enjoying the piece.
The story centers on Logan (played with no small amount of charm by Matthew Ward) and his young wife, Charlie (convincingly portrayed by Amal Saade). Logan has recently been in a near-fatal car accident, and Charlie, an investigative journalist, is eager to get to the bottom of his perhaps-too-miraculous recovery. The two are most fun to watch when they’re on their own, especially when delivering one of Styles’ expertly crafted monologues; as a couple, their chemistry never really blossoms.
Woven into their saga are Hannah (Grain of Sand’s managing director, Sara Bickler), who seems to have a mysterious connection with Logan, and Parker (John Stange, who oozes both creepiness and affection, depending on the scene), a doctor who seems to be keeping secrets. The criminally underused Pamela H. Leahigh rounds out the five-some as a therapist, police chief, and more.
While all of the performances are polished and convincing, it is the innovative approach to staging that really steals the show and keeps the audience engaged. To say that this production does a lot with a little would be an epic understatement.
Tell-Tale by Hunter Styles
at Fort Fringe – Bedroom
612 L Street NW
Details and tickets
Tell-Tale’s one glaring flaw is that it occasionally tells too much. The monologues are indeed thought-provoking and well-written, but the characters also do a lot of exposition and thinking aloud to themselves in a way that can sometimes start to feel like one is having overly detailed and extensive stage directions read to him. The climactic scene starts to drag on after a while, especially as Parker begins to reveal parts of the story the audience has long since figured out—or, even worse, have been explicitly explained just moments before. The show also doesn’t seem know when to end; if the 80-minute play were a solid 20 minutes shorter, it would likely be that much stronger and more enjoyable for it.
Without a doubt, though, Tell-Tale has a lot of, well… heart. At its best, it encourages its audience to follow along as its plot twists and turns without ever requiring us to too greatly suspend disbelief. Despite its shifting realities and touches of magic, the story is an intriguing and relateable one that begs us to meditate on our own precarious mortality, and the innovative staging and storytelling are exemplary of what makes being a Fringe viewer such pulse-pounding fun.
[Playwright Hunter Styles is a writer for DC Theatre Scene. This did not affect the review.]