Friday, November 1, 2019

An Evening with Edgar Poe

So, Janice had spotted what sounded like an interesting event being held locally, so on Halloween night she and I made our way up to Renton to see a one-man show presented as an evening with Poe. The concept was that this was one from the poetry readings and lecture series Poe undertook in the summer of 1849 --only a few months before his death, though he had no way to know that (he was only forty). I didn't get the actor's name (I don't think it was on the flyers they had posted up), but his re-creation of Poe solicited subscriptions from the audience for the new magazine he was hoping to launch, THE STYLUS; brought in gratuitous insults aimed at Emerson, Longfellow, and especially Lowell; inveighed against the dominance of writers from England over the fledgling American literature (which at the time of this imagined lecture had only been underway for about thirty years);* and fumed about the old boys' network who praised each other's work (here he was thinking of the New England clique to whom we still devote a lot of American Lit 101 to this day). All pretty accurate and true to Poe's life, so it gets points there.

Although sparsely attended (which ironically made it all the more like the Poe events it was modeled upon) by about two dozen people I found it a v. effective, simple presentation. Set dressing was limited to a chair, a small table, a teapot and teacup and small bowl with some candy in it (there for Halloween, perhaps?), and a few pamphlets. The only special effect was creeping fog (no doubt derived from dry ice) that manifested behind 'Poe' when he was doing a reading, esp. for THE TALE-TELL HEART (the only story of the evening) and THE RAVEN (obviously the stand-out piece, as it was in Poe's time: this was the poem that made him famous). He also did "El Dorado", "Annabel Lee", and the first stanza of "Alone" and "A Dream within a Dream".

I wd have preferred less interactive show (from time to time he exchanged banter with the audience, something that tends to annoy me in shows of this type)**, and there were some teasers, when he announced that he was going to perform a specific piece --most notably EUREKA, Poe's discussion of, among other things, the Big Bang and Pulsating Universe theories--only to immediately change his mind and move on to something else. Having a high regard for EUREKA from having read it back in Marquette days (that is, back in the 1980s) I wd quite have liked to hear it, or more probably parts of it, presented by an actor and professionally trained reader. In fact, I had no sooner gotten home after the show that I ordered an audiobook unabridged reading of EUREKA on cd; it shd be here tomorrow.

All in all, an enjoyable experience, and one I'm glad we found out about in time and decided to attend. I thought his selection of works pretty good, though I wd have liked to have seen him do THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER as well. My main complaint is that the show was quite short. It was supposed to run two hours (or so said the signage in the lobby) but he wrapped it up in just one. Pity: I'd have liked to see more.

It did remind me of a similar event. Years ago, just before we made our way out here to the Pacific Northwest, we saw John Astin (of ADDAMS FAMILY fame) in a similar one-man-show in the Chicago area. That had been a much better performance: Astin did a great job. Poking about a bit now, I see that this must have been EDGAR ALLAN POE -- ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT. The only link I found for it seem to have expired, but here's a link that leads to a clip wherein Astin performs THE RAVEN, which shd give a good idea of the whole:

One of the things I read aloud as part of my speech therapy repertoire is a suite of poems by Poe:*** "The Raven", "Ulalume", "El Dorado", and "A Dream within a Dream", plus sometimes "Alone" (the Poe poem we almost lost) and "Annabel Lee". After seeing last night's performance I'm thinking I shd probably add some of his prose to that -- perhaps THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

--John R.
tonight's music: TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION, the Poe-based first album from The Alan Parsons Project.

current reading: Brad Strickland's AN UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO NEW ZEBEDEE

* thus Poe was slightly older than American literature itself.
**similarly with two Beatles tribute shows we saw a few years back: one put on a concert and the other did a lot of jokes and banter that pretty much got in the way.
***another is either THE WASTE LAND or a suite of poems by Eliot: "Prufrock", "Ash Wednesday" and "The Hollow Men", occasionally swapping out the whole for OLD POSSUM'S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS.

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