These days, Poe is usually found on a shelf in the classic literature section of bookstores; bookcases like giant tomes to the work of literary masters of the past, their works to be brought out with reverence and scholarly dedication.
But if Robert Michael Oliver could go into bookstores, libraries, and schools with his spellbinding performance, Embodying Poe, no one would dare leave the writer to dust with the past.
Powerful and transfixing.
Embodying Poe is wonderful enterprise. Oliver brings to vivid life not only the beautiful works of Poe, but the mystery of the man himself as his performance vacillates between the most engaging lecture imaginable and the fierce embodiment of the writer reciting his works against a dreamy background of gorgeous art (many of which are mixed media pieces along with oils, pastels, and pen and ink) and eerie music.
“For Poe, a poem was but a soliloquy in want of a play,” Oliver notes in his professorial character, and indeed, his performance provides just that vitality as he breathes life into the poetry and weaves the lovely, lonely verses into a haunting biography that not only expounds on the linear life of Poe, but explores the deepest and darkest regions of the great poet and writer’s mind, heart, and soul.
Poems like Alone, Dreams, and A Dream within a Dream are recited, and the work, Silence: a Fable comes rivetingly alive as Oliver brings it into play, taking on the voices and characters within. His centerpiece of The Raven held me breathless, seeing the raven watching, watching so that nevermore will it be only words on a page. Or Ulalume, so gorgeously spoken so that it practically seduced and left me breathless with the echo of the word on my heart.
I wanted to take Oliver home with me, to take on all my favorite pieces and awaken them fresh and free. I saw myself as a member of a group privileged to hear these works as never heard before, as from Poe himself with all the emotion and the imagery washing over my being and taking me somewhere else, to an exquisite world that only the privileged few could ever experience. I want the whole world to sit and listen and watch as this world opens before it and draws everyone in.
The only possible thing that could have enhanced this production would be to sit back on a lavish and comfortable chair in a room with a glass of wine and afterwards to dine and visit with others for whom the experience was equally as powerful and transfixing and to wonder at the power of it all.
If you love literature, you should go. If you don’t love literature, you should go, because you will love it; you cannot withstand falling in love with it as he speaks and recites and brings you into the beating heart of the very essence of Poe. Go! Poe will never be the same again: he will be what he always was in himself and what he should be today for everyone; breathtakingly alive and wholly enchanting.
Oliver’s voice and characterization; the interweaving of the gorgeous recitations with the beautiful images; the slipping between the two with the aid of light and sound effects, was excellently construed and should not be missed.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour.
More information and tickets are available here.
Embodying Poe, Poetry-in-Performance is running through July 26, 2015 at the Hyman M. Perlo Studio Dance Place. 3225 8th St NE, Washington DC.