For the well-read theatregoer in search of a haunting experience this Halloween season, look no further than CENTERSTAGE’S The Completely Fictional—Utterly True—Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe.
As the extended title boasts, this production pays tribute to the American icon and Baltimore legend’s final days, lying on his deathbed in Washington Hospital. With no memory of how he got there, the dying author (portrayed beautifully by Bruce Nelson, a Baltimore legend in his own right) hurtles through a world of memory and hallucination, in wild resistance of his own mortality. The play is as diverse as Poe’s body of work, delving into everything from the romantic to the occult—swinging between poles of morbidity and humor.
…this is a daring and well-crafted piece that will quickly earn its place in the American canon.
This is just the second production of the play, having premiered in Providence, RI at Trinity Rep in 2011, also under the direction of Curt Columbus. Having had the privilege of seeing both productions, I can attest that this revival lives up to the script’s full potential and, in some cases, improves upon the original staging. The transitions, in particular, are executed with almost magical efficiency, and, watching the show in the round—a key difference from the Trinity production—the audience is thrown head first into the whirlwind of Poe’s life and delusions.
Nelson is extremely compelling as Poe. While at the start he does not appear particularly sick; this only heightens the effect of his physical deterioration and madness. Accompanying him on this madcap journey is a supporting cast of doctors, nurses, and literary figures, including the memorable appearances of Charles Dickens (Jimmy Kieffer) and Poe’s younger self (Charlie Thurston). The ensemble is uniformly strong; Caroline Kaplan, in particular, shows tremendous range as both Poe’s dead wife Virginia and a selection of humorous supporting characters.
They are well served by the minimalist set (Eugene Lee) that lends itself effortlessly to the different worlds of the play and presents almost no sightline issues (no small feat in the round). The costumes (David Burdick) are impeccable and facilitate numerous quick changes—comic and horrific alike—while the sound design (Zachary Williamson) is creepily vast.
The second act is considerably longer than the first, and seems to extend beyond its natural endpoint—a haunting tribute to Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” The scene that follows feels lackluster in comparison, and the play peters out instead of ending with a bang. Nevertheless, this is a daring and well-crafted piece that will quickly earn its place in the American canon.
Running Time: two hours and ten minutes with one intermission.
The Completely Fictional — Utterly True — Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe runs through November 25, 2012 at Centerstage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202. For tickets call the box office at 410.332.0033 or click here.