The dark genius of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and poetry can be enjoyed on your own, reading by flickering candle light just to add to the experience. Another way to enjoy a selection of Poe’s most popular tales is to let the fine folks at Molotov Theatre Group bring the nightmarish tales to life.
Washington’s self-described “Grand Guignol” theatre troupe has chosen as their season opener Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe, a play by Cleveland-based playwright Eric Coble. Sure, the play treads familiar territory – retelling tales of devilish visitors, madness, torture and guilt – but this is Molotov’s bread and butter. Quoth the critic, I’d love some more. (Here ends bad Poe-puns for the rest of the review.)
You may recall Coble as the writer of The Velocity of Autumn which played Arena Stage last season before a brief run on Broadway. I mention The Velocity of Autumn just to provide a little background on the playwright since the two plays could not be further apart in style and substance.
Simply put, Nightfall is a chance to see some of Poe’s verse and prose acted out which is not a bad way to spend an evening. In the creative hands of the Molotov Theatre Group Coble’s short play is right at home. When the house opened at the DC Arts Center, I descended a short flight of wooden stairs that brought to mind the way down to den of thieves where laudanum might be peddled. The intimate playing space gave the dark and spooky tales of terror a fitting venue to unleash “The Raven,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Accompanied by the haunting musical score by Gregory Thomas Woolford Martin, Nightfall opens with a theatrical flourish, including a chorus of masked figures. Poe appears to address the audience directly. “Let me tell you my stories and you be the judge as to whether or not I am mad.” Sometimes the poet serves as the narrator, other times he observes. Throughout the play, the famed author takes in the visions before him, haunted and wild-eyed. Molotov Theatre Group member Elliott Kashner strikes a dashing and tortured figure as Poe.
Matthew Marcus takes on the role of Edgar, the amazed narrator in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Also in “Usher,” Adam R. Adkins has an actor’s field day with the tragic Roderick Usher. As Madeline Usher, Roderick’s unfortunate sister, Stacy Whittle makes the most of her ghostly appearance.
NIGHTFALL WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE
Closes December 7, 2014
DC Arts Center
2438 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
1 hour, 25 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
As the late, lovely and fictional Poe muse Lenore, Jen Bevan adds a melancholy presence to “The Raven” and other scenes complete with piercing eyes and striking red-hair. Without giving away too much, I will also mention Yoni Gray is a chilling presence early in the evening. He returns for the sharp-edged and suspenseful “The Pit and the Pendulum,” one of the most satisfying scenes among the four tales.
Director Mark Kamie had the actors move in and out of the tiny playing space like spectres in the night, with wall panels and doors that moved fluidly suiting, each scene. The scene description from Coble’s script places the play inside “the minds of madmen everywhere.” Kamie and scenic designer Brian McDermott were able to take the suggestion and make it work with elegance and simplicity. Kamie’s staging was enhanced by the ultra-moody lighting by designer Pete Vargo.
When creative, no-frills sets are employed, costumes can bridge the gap, adding period detail and costumer (and actress) Jen Bevan did not disappoint. Stylish waistcoats, cravats, and vests and sumptuous period gowns placed the actors squarely in Poe’s time period, circa 1840.
My only caveat about Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe and the Molotov Theatre Group is this: based on everything I have read about Molotov, “America’s second oldest Theatre of Grand Guignol,” I somehow expected more moments of grisly gore. That being said, in their press materials, Molotov chairman Alex Zavistovich states, “The most important things to keep in mind … are to stay open-minded and to put logic behind you.” So, I may have felt short-changed in the blood and gore department, but the actors and staging made up for it with macabre style and panache.
And I have no doubt they are putting in an order for stage blood even as you read this for their next production..
Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe by Eric Coble . Director: Mark Kamie . Featuring Adam R. Adkins, Jen Bevan, Yoni Gray, Elliott Kashner, Matthew Marcus, and Stacy Whittle . Costumer: Jen Bevan . Lighting Designer: Pete Vargo . Set Design/Construction: Brian McDermott . Composer: Gregory Thomas Woolford Mart . Production Stage Manager: Katherine Offutt . Produced by Molotov Theatre Group . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.
NIGHTFALL WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE
Closes Dec 7