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"An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe" celebrates master of macabre
The Rosebriar Shakespeare Company acting troupe is stepping out of "The Great Bard's" shadow to explore the darkness that shroud's the writing of one of America's greatest writers - Edgar Allan Poe.
Photo courtesy of Niels Hansen
Cast members for "Tales of the Grotesque: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe" are, from left to right: (back row) Stephen Hanna, Kirsten Upchurch, Harlow Keith, Stephanie Hayslip, Daniel P. Smail and Melinda Anderson; (front row) Garison Wills and Mony Carpenter.
"Poe is the master of the macabre," said Harlow Keith of the Rosebriar Shakespeare Company. "He's the original detective writer and adept with the short story exploring the darker side. He's extremely entertaining and as fascinating today as in the 19th century. He stands out in American literature."
The Rosebriar Shakespeare Company will present their take on Poe with "Tales of the Grotesque: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe" (see sidebar for performance information).
The group will add their own twist to Poe's tales by setting their performance of Poe in the context of a 1920s radio play at the fictional radio station, WGPT. Among the Poe works included in the performance will be "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Oval Portrait," and "Annabel Lee."
"It's a departure," said Keith. "The actors will be reading from a script just like they used to do in the old radio dramas. They'll even be dropping the pages of the script to the floor as they finish them like the old radio actors used to do so as not to rustle the pages so it won't come over the microphone as they read."
Keith said the performance will be a "mystery within a mystery" with the entire cast eventually being killed off.
"The question for the audience will be, 'Who killed them?'" said Keith.
Keith added Poe fans will especially delight in some obscure Poe references sprinkled throughout the performance, such as digs at the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whom Poe despised.
"Our director Stephen Hanna has done extensive research on Poe and knows many of his idiosyncrasies," said Keith.
A challenge for the actors
Artistic Director Kirsten Upchurch, who holds a master's in fine arts from Florida Atlantic University, said the performance will require special efforts by the cast of seven actors.
"Poe poses an interesting conundrum in that he mixes everyday speech with poetry," said Upchurch. "It's a heightened text with poetry rhythms."
Keith added that, in most plays, the actors can rely on scenery and gestures to help them create characters, but in this performance of a radio play those aids are not present.
"Here the actors are dressed in basic black and will have to use facial expressions and their voice to carry them," said Keith.
Along with being artistic director, Upchurch is also a cast member. She said the actors must separate brain and body swiftly from character to character to convey the different plots as they intermingle in the radio play.
"My role has no speaking lines, so my characterization is all physical," said Upchurch. "I get to create an entire world of my own from scratch."
"To get the full effect of a radio performance the audience members should close their eyes for a few moments and listen just like they were listening to the radio," said Keith. "This will be one of those shows people will talk about for days afterward."
Additionally Keith said the Jan. 27 performance will include a special session afterwards where students interested in theater can talk to the cast about acting.
Also, said Upchurch, there are aspects of the show, such as at intermission, where the audience can interact with the actors.
"Live theater is a one of a kind experience," said Upchurch. "We want to invite the audience in to play with us. They are a large part of what we do and why we do it."
Performances will be staged at Groveport Town Hall, 648 Main St., Groveport, on the following dates: Jan. 26 - 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 27 - 2 p.m.; and Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 2 - 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are: adults - $10 pre-sale, $12 at door; children/students/seniors - $8 pre-sale, $10 at door. For reservations call Go Groveport! 607 Main St, Groveport, at (614) 836-7939. Visit www.rosebriarshakespeare.org or call (614) 899-2387 for information.
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