Co-presented with LIFT 2010, this visiting Canadian production purports to relate “the imaginary life and mysterious death of Edgar Allen Poe” which might imply some sort of interaction between biographical detail and the gothic rodomontade of Poe’s prose and poetry.
On a superficial level, that is the case, though most of director Jonathan Christenson’s text is banal doggerel of his own devising, and the seven performers of Catalyst Theatre (based in Edmonton, Alberta) carry on like commedia dell’arte stereotypes, strutting and posing with more skill than passion, or indeed melancholic misery.
The main weakness of the show stems from its canned presentation: everything on the soundtrack is recorded, the acting arranged to fit in, the microphoning indifferent, the singing arch, so that an alienating deadness spreads through the auditorium like a Poe-style plague.
From Steven Berkoff to Shunt, Poe has been over-exploited in the theatre, usually for all the wrong reasons. His is not the sort of literary gothicism that suits theatrical performance, which is why Nevermore – the hammer blow refrain from Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven – is so uninvolving.
Apart, that is, from one passage in the first half, when we hear about the brutal skinning of a mouse. Otherwise, the deadly charade trots meekly through the familiar story of Poe’s penury and alcoholism, his thespian parentage, his lost love Elmira and his infatuation with his own teenaged cousin, Sissy.
Scott Shpeley’s Edgar has a Struwwelpeter-like shock of black hair and long talon-like fingers, and a striking little boy lost look that doesn’t seem anything like appropriate to Poe. He and the others mince and cavort mildly in front of a panelled screen which opens every now and then on another heart of darkness, or large animal head, or fuzzily ambiguous silhouette.
Christenson is also the composer and there’s a pleasing, march-like Michael Nyman-ish serialism to the music for about two minutes before monotony sets in. The torture extends for two hours, and I found it very hard to sit still in my seat for most of the duration. Nevermore? Never again.