Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company is currently running a production of the fictionalized life and tales of Poe in Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, playing until February 6, 2010 on the Granville Island Stage.
Casting Scott Shpeley as “Edgar,” the musical fuses aspects of Poe’s life with his sometimes disturbing, sometimes comical tales in a “fantastical rendering of the Gothic dreamscape of his life, revealing the psychology of the man whose haunting, darkly comic writings resonate in each of our tell-tale hearts.” Infused with humour, grit, drama, and the macabre, Nevemore brings a brilliant rendition of Poe’s works to the stage.
Nevermore presents Poe’s life as one rife with misery and loss as he becomes orphaned at a young age. Separated from his mentally unstable sister and his gregarious brother, Edgar is sent to live with his equally unstable aunt, where he meets a young girl with whom he falls in love. The love is cut short due to miscommunication and this is when Edgar meets the cousin, half his age, with whom he married in reality.
Combining elements of The Imp of the Perverse, Ligeia, The Black Cat, The Premature Burial, Berenice and The Raven among others, the tales become intertwined in a gothic retelling of Edgar’s life as fiction and fantasy become one. Replete with a chorus line of singing ravens, the play delivers a Tim Burton-esque creation to the stage. Design Associate Daniela Masellis and Costume Associate Sheena Haug present a visual feast of the macabre leaving the audience’s senses tingling. Characters are patterned with dark globular appendages marking a literal portrayal of the cyclical events of Poe’s life and tales.
Scott Shpeley perfectly portrays the traumatic overtones of Poe’s fantastical life. Edgar selects his words carefully and speaks scarcely, instead communicating through his pained and often stricken expressions. Eyes wide and chin trembling, Shpeley imparts Poe’s inner turmoil through ellipsis and the powerful expression in his eyes that communicates more than words. And at times, it becomes difficult to separate Poe’s fictional life with the reality as the plot flows with a surreal realism encouraging and maintaining the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.
For those who are well-versed in Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional works and possess knowledge of his biography, the play is clear about its fictionalized status and does not attempt to provide the viewer with a factual account of Poe’s life rather, it is a poetic account of the literary mogul. It can be frustrating for the audience that is aware of the falsities portrayed but one must be aware of the production’s focus on the fictionalization of both Poe’s fiction and his life.
On the one hand, this is a difficult feat while on the other hand, the characters make it easy to suspend disbelief and become immersed in this magically innovative play.