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True to its name, the F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Group’s latest production, “Nevermore,” has certainly transformed my image of Edgar Allen Poe in an irreversible way. Nevermore will I see Poe in the same light. Nevermore will he simply be a talented but crazed author whose work reflected this juxtaposition of character. Instead, after seeing the aforementioned musical, I will empathize with the early loss of loved ones, the sense of stark loneliness, and the tortured mind that defined this misunderstood poet. Through “Nevermore,” director Joe DeMita is able to convey the Gothic writer as twisted but human, a man whose depth of emotion, experience, and feeling typifies the inevitable solitude of a writer.
The musical’s opening scene sets the sinister tone that persists throughout the production. A soft drum ominously begins to pound, a heartbeat of foreboding that only Edgar Allen Poe could inspire. The lighting, formed of flickering lanterns and the soft green glow of midnight, calls to mind a dungeon, to greatly sinister effect.
Onto this scene stumbles Poe (Ronny Pompeo), seemingly in a drunken stupor. Pompeo successfully inhabits the role with a wild look in his dark, sunken eyes. Five women file in behind him, the five most influential women in his life, ranging from his mother to a whore with whom he forms a relationship. The women circle Poe—who collapses—and begin quietly singing adaptations of his most famous poems in unison, including “Annabelle Lee” and “Alone.” Each woman seemingly competes for Poe’s recognition as the inspiration for her respective poem. This opening scene forces the audience to recognize the pathos in Poe’s life and movingly conveys the emotions that inspired his works. This early success is repeated throughout the evening.
The rest of the play continues in a similar vein, with scenes and songs based on Poe’s poetry and his difficult experiences—both romantic and maternal—with women. As each woman sequentially enters and leaves the stage, a new dimension of meaning is placed upon each poem; the muse behind the words is unveiled. The women separately represent something to Edgar, a trait of character or quality of life that he never had. Amongst many impressive performances, Joelle Kross as Virginia, Poe’s 13-year old bride and first cousin, is particularly adept at imbuing her character with youth and innocence. Likewise, Shawna O’Brien plays Poe’s mother, who dies while her son is still an infant. O’Brien subsequently stalks the stage as a ghost, becoming the authority figure of the play and chastising her son’s melancholic tendencies.
Instead of the more rigidly defined progression of action and character development that define the plots of most plays and musicals, DeMita’s direction opts instead to expose the inner workings of one individual. The play is basically psychoanalytical; the busy, flowing, often frenetic musical numbers and dynamic stage direction affords the audience a rare glimpse into Poe’s psyche. Unfortunately, this “glimpse” extends into an hour and a half long exposition, a bit generous for the lack of a distinct plot; further, the abundance of scenes constructed to convey a universal sense of loss causes the theme to become less affecting in its repetition. Despite this, “Nevermore” does an excellent job of presenting an understanding and sympathetic vision of its antihero.
While it may lose some of its luster as it progresses, “Nevermore” nevertheless accomplishes what it set out to achieve: to reveal the twisted blueprint of nature and the tormented existence of one of America’s greatest poets. Behind the verses and behind the music, the man with the pen, the imagination, and the hopeless yearning for something more than reality is left to be discovered.
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