OKAY. First of all this play is really a dance piece with text and music. It is beautifully executed and performed. Seriously stunning. And I lost interest within the first 30 minutes. No, not lost interest – WAS lost.
Edgar Allen Poe is our personal tragedy. His work is taught to grammar school students – I am guessing that you were around 13 when you were first introduced to him. What is it that captured us and stayed with us? The meter and rhyme of the poetry. The subject of the stories. All dark. Haunting. And something else. Something insistent, like a heart beat that repeated “I am her. I am here. I am here.” He was accessible to a 13 year old mind, even while he was talking of passions and sorrows and murder beyond most of our comprehension. Enough to say that nearly everyone you might ask will not only recognize the name, but will be able to quote a phrase or two. This from a writer who died almost 200 years ago.
After we are greeted by Jeremy Wilhelm in his role as the park ranger for the Poe House (this is only one of his many duties that he executes with style) we are ushered into an astonishing visual where we are treated to a bird’s eye view of Poe at his desk. This is Poe at the very end of his life as he cobbles together a life by giving readings. He is addicted to laudanum and closer to death than he knows. He does his best to keep in touch with his aunt/mother-in-law, “Muddy,” but because he is on the road giving lectures so much the post is not always reliable.
As Poe (Ean Sheehy) slides further and further away from this planet, he appears to be having hallucinations, most of which center on his dead wife Virginia (Alessandra L. Larson) who appears and reappears throughout. Her initial entrance up from the earth anchors us firmly in the mystical, if such a thing can be done, and we watch as she nearly pulls Poe into her own body, so visceral is her hold on him.
Prior to this, Poe had just published his 128 page prose poem, Eureka. If nothing else this production makes me want to read this treatise that was addressing creation and the microcosm/macrocosm relationship to everything on the planet. This was, of course, viewed with great suspicion, and we watch as more than one person asks merely that he recite The Raven, and leave it at that. Sheehy does an astonishing job of taking on Poe without making him in the least a caricature. This is a living human who is beyond saving. His addictions have taken their toll and the end is holding out a cold hand to welcome. in addition Larson and the musical team of David Wilhelm and Jeremy Wilhelm are nearly perfect.
The staging here is remarkable as well and reminded me of a stunning play that I saw in L.A. several years ago about Dylan Thomas. Thomas was passed from scene to scene by a gaggle of actors who removed and added clothing, handed him props and otherwise aided as he transformed from vital to damned. Here too, Poe is on the move mentally, physically and spiritually. It is as though his body is aware that his time is limited and it is better to be awake and functioning so as not to miss anything. He goes and goes until he can go no more.
The production overall, however, raises more questions than it answers. We don’t know what happened to Poe in his last days, and this production does little to fill in the blanks. Mystery wrapped in terrific acting, ethereal choreography, startling staging and unique music.
In addition, I always question the wisdom of including a chronology of a production’s development in the program. This chronology has only one mention of Poe – dated 1849 – and devotes the rest of the journey to the development of Red-Eye including the purchase of a table and a door with which we will become familiar. The first idea occurred in 1999 and the culmination is here in 2014. Why it is important for us to know that this has taken 15 years remains a mystery. But what it does bring up is the question: why was this not a more cohesive piece if folks had been working on it all that time?
Another mystery. Seems fair. Poe continues to elude.
Red-Eye to Havre de Grace – Created by Thaddeus Phillips, Jeremy Wilhelm, Geoff Sobelle, David Wilhelm and Sophie Bortolussi, with Ean Sheehy for Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental; directed by Mr. Phillips
WITH: Alessandra L. Larson (Virginia Poe), Ean Sheehy (Edgar Allan Poe), David Wilhelm and Jeremy Wilhelm.
Sets by Mr. Phillips; costumes by Rosemarie McKelvey; lighting by Drew Billiau; sound by Robert Kaplowitz; choreography by Ms. Bortolussi; production stage manager, Lindsey Turteltaub; music by Wilhelm Bros. & Co. Presented by New York Theater Workshop, James C. Nicola, artistic director; Jeremy Blocker, managing director. At New York Theater Workshop, 79 East Fourth Street, East Village; 212-279-4200, nytw.org. Through June 1. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.