Theatre

Wednesday, 30 September 2015 12:36

First Folio's "The Madness of Poe, A Love Story" Brilliantly Reveals The Loving Side of Poe Featured

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From the moment you enter the darkened and eerie Tudor Revival styled Mayslake Peabody Estate and are handed a dance card indicating which group of theater goers you will follow throughout the performance, the tension and excitement of this wonderful production begins to mount. Not long after First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” begins the audience is divided, following different sets of actors from room to room.  

The large, dark house, lit by the light of the full "Blood Moon" on opening night is still haunted by the memory of the husband who lovingly built the entire estate for his wife over a decade and then passed away during a fox hunt the year after it was finished. This site specific mansion is the perfect theater setting for this dynamic and revealing look at Edgar Allen Poe's work as a hugely successful fiction writer as well as his tragic life and loves. 

It is very rare, with the large amount of theater I see, week after week, that I am watching a show and at the same time planning in my mind which friends of mine I would like to come back and see it with again.

I loved how the audience moved from room to room within the mansion, sometimes seeing a portion of a scene while standing in a hallway or while entering the genuine antique chapel built after the estate was sold.  It was a lot of fun and gave the audience a feeling of mystery and danger, as though we were instant comrades and active participants in the play itself. 

Christopher Kriz did a fantastic job with the tricky sound design in each of the authentically scary rooms of this aging mansion. Each sound Kriz creates building the tension and surrounds the tiny audience in such a way that we really felt the Tell-Tale Heart beating in our own ears, not just coming out of a single speaker anywhere. 

I learned so much about Poe's life and work that I had not known before. The sad irony that not only did he watch his mother die of consumption at the tender age of six, he then witnessed the slow death of his adoring stepmother and finally his wife Virginia wasting away and coughing up blood daily from the same devastating disease. 

I also did not realize what an amazing amount, and romantically stunning quality, of love letters and love poetry Poe wrote in his lifetime to his wife Virginia and often to another married woman named Annie whom he loved from afar. 

On the back of the dance card is printed the single sad poem his wife Virginia, his first cousin whom he married when he was 27 and she just 13 years old, although they did not consummate the marriage until she was 16. The tragic fact that they shared just nine blissful years together, four of them while she was healthy and five where she began to deteriorate from consumption. He made the right decision to follow his heart and court her from pretty much the moment they met because he knew on some unconscious level that their precious time together was ticking away quite quickly and he died just two years after her passing at the age of 40.   

Christian Gray, who portrays Poe, does a stunning job of showing the sadness and turmoil inside of Poe while never losing the absolute passion and headstrong devotion for his wife Virginia. Gray seems to drink in like a thirsty vampire the femininely beautiful essence of his wife Virginia from her head to toe in every scene. You sense that Gray, whose eyes are often brimming with tears,  as if struggling to speak - as if his next breath depends solely upon seeing her loving reaction to him and his writings in every moment and every delicate hour that passed between them.  Without Gray's nicely sensual, sometimes earthy and sometimes heart wrenching performance, the "Love Story" portion of this play would not have been nearly as convincing. 

Diana Mair makes a lovely, charming, sensitive portrayal of Poe’s wife Virginia.  Mair's sympathetic, yet lighthearted telling of Poe's tragic early years and her burning love for him comes off with a mature, yet modernly sassy quality that makes you understand how he could be so in love with her and then so completely lost without her as his enthusiastic muse after her untimely death at the age of 22. 

Actor Kevin McKillip, also outstanding, has several great, and fright building scenes as the madman in the retelling of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and as a prisoner locked in a dungeon with the blade of a scythe rapidly approaching to cut him apart in “The Pit and the Pendulum", appropriately performed in a room so dark you could not see the person sitting next to you. 

Here is just one of Poe's hundreds of love letter/poems to Annie, one of his few unrequited loves:

“So long as I think that you know I love you, as no man ever loved woman - so long as I think you comprehend in some measure, the fervor with which I adore you, so long, no worldly trouble can ever render me absolutely wretched. But oh, my darling, my Annie, my own sweet sister Annie, my pure beautiful angel - wife of my soul - to be mine hereafter and forever in the Heavens - how shall I explain to you the bitter, bitter anguish which has tortured me since I left you?”

In a surprising and childlike way Poe signed his letters to her, and to his beloved wife Virginia with the adorable “forever your own, Eddy…”.

I highly recommend this scary, yet passionately romantic retelling of Poe's life and hard won genius. It will definitely make you want to read more of Poe's work, especially his prolific amount of luscious, spellbinding love letters! 

By the end of the play you understand why ALL of the women in his life, were utterly captured and held close by his heartfelt writings to them and adored him so completely during the short time on earth they each shared with him. 

First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Mansion in Oakbrook through November 4th. For more information on this unique and haunting production, visit www.firstfolio.org.

*One note, on disability access, First Folio may want to add a disclaimer on its website informing the disabled and elderly theatre goers that the play does require climbing some stairs and brief standing in addition to its mention that the show moves around the mansion. 

 

 

Last modified on Friday, 02 October 2015 19:53

 

 

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