SHADES OF POE: Compelling, Illuminating

by Jack Shaw

Fractured Mirror Production’s SHADES OF POE should be made into a Halloween tradition–if it isn’t already. As someone who has always straddled the line between theatre and literature, and who has a fascination with what makes people tick, I found the theatrical approach to Poe’s work interesting and immensely entertaining.

Isa St. Clair in a scene from SHADES OF POE, running in Collingswood NJ through October 31.

Not only that, but this is the perfect time of year for Poe’s dark laments and ruminations.

In some ways, I like the idea better than Trick or Treating or dressing up in costumes, although I’m sure many will disagree with me–including a great many actors and artists. Especially the young at heart.

This is not a program for children. You could read Poe’s stories to them yourself and they would have trouble sleeping–so deeply troubling and engaging are his words. And, you too would have insomnia. Well, I would anyway. You know those moments when your mind is so busy contemplating the mysteries of human behavior, how people can do what they do?

Patty Verzella conceived, compiled and directed this theatrical interpretation of The Raven, The Oval Portrait, The Tale-Tell Heart, Imp of the Perverse, Berenice and The Cask of the Amontillado. This is not a reader’s theatre, although it has the same literature that one would find there. Verzella’s able cast seeks to dramatize those moments that are left to our imagination by the literature by itself and bring them to life–a noble and risky undertaking.

There is always the danger when you do a dramatic interpretation of a literary piece that the images and emotions are better left to our imagination. If the actors give the audience one moment to allow the interpretation in their minds to surface… Nevermore. It doesn’t happen here. You are drawn to the interpretations, and allow for the performances provide more for your imagination later. You could argue that this is literature and not drama. I would argue drama is also literature, but both are about life and dramatize our ideas, albeit a different way. It is still drama; therefore theatre.

This is a no frills production and that is what it should be. That way much is still left to the audience to interpret. Poe’s words provide ample atmosphere with its rhythmic qualities and its imagery without adding music, sound effects and fancy lighting. In fact, if theatre is meant to enhance an audience’s appreciation of the written word, it does that here–simply.

We are fascinated by macabre, by evil and dark thoughts, and by the bizarre behavior that manifests itself when guilt dominates our thoughts. What is it that makes us do terrible things to another, and fall into madness after the deed is done? Does the madness or mental illness explain it? Or, was the sickness there to begin with? Poe’s awe inspiring literature found its unique place among the Gothic horror genre, and he even dabbled in science fiction. To be sure, he did more than dabble in psychology. He dealt with the fears that we couldn’t explain. He dealt with our reluctance to let go of the living and our fear of being buried alive. The idea that a person isn’t really gone from this life (a ghost of them remains) or goes willingly to the next.

Add all of that to a house that was built in 1825, a year when Poe would have been at his peak, and production about his work honors him. I’m glad to see theatre used in this way. You could have actors perform an oral interpretation of the literature in a readers theatre, but it would be absent the richness of the stage–an entire house, and of the artful take theatre allows. Suspend your disbelief and let the actors present SHADES OF POE.

Starring: Michael Fisher, Eric Goetchel, Vincent Ali, Brian Ratcliffe, Nicole Lukaitis, Isa St. Clair, Eric Suter and Tom Geigel.

This production involves standing, walking, climbing stairs, and moving through dimly lit areas. It is recommended for guests ages 13 and up.

Fractured Mirror Productions
Conceived, Compiled and
Directed by Patty Verzella
Weekends, October 15- 31, with performances at 7 and 9 p.m
Collings Knight Homestead
500 Collings Ave
Collingswood, NJ 08107

You may also like

Leave a Reply