Theatre Mirror Reviews "Red Eye to Havre de Grace"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth

"Red Eye to Havre de Grace"

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

 Last week, I took the “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace,” Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental and  Wilhelm Bros. & Co.’s  highly touted production, at Boston’s Emerson/Paramount Center Mainstage, but somewhere along the way, I missed the boat. The production appeared for three days, courtesy of ArtsEmerson:The World on Stage.

Several critics and fans have praised this 100-minute, one-act action opera that traces Edgar Allan Poe’s mysterious final days in 1849, saying it’s exquisite, enchanting, and entertaining. I thought it was a bizarre, boring amalgam of discordant music, eerie movement and lighting, with a push-pull, dramatic-comedic, loosely-strung dialogue. While the creators concentrated on its artistry, versatility and creativity, they painted a pitifully, meek caricature of the tormented genius, 

Because mystery surrounds and theories abound concerning Poe’s untimely death, this troupe also supplies some historical data, including some of Poe’s works and his last letters to his mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, (she was also his favorite aunt), whom he lovingly addressed as Muddy. 

. Part of that mystery centers on Poe’s train travels from Richmond, Va. to Philadelphia, and New York, with an unplanned detour ending in Baltimore, where he was found severely ill, wearing cheap, worn clothing - not his usual stylish garb- in front of Ryan’s saloon in Baltimore. Poe died Oct. 7, 1849, at age 40, in Washington College Hospital, now called Church Hospital. While hospitalized, Poe trembled uncontrollably, hallucinated deliriously, then went into a coma, which actor Ean Sheehy vividly portrays. However, Sheehy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Poe,  mumbles inaudibly several times, rendering his microphone useless.

There are no records of Poe’s death, including a death certificate, and no autopsy was performed. The attending doctor claimed he died of “congestion of the brain”.

As an introduction, a uniformed national parks ranger named Steve, who’s in charge of the Edgar Allan Poe House in Philadelphia, welcomes us, then provides biographic facts about Poe’s birth and early days in his hometown, Boston. Suddenly, our humble, humorous host  bursts into song, revealing his stunning strong voice. He’s actually co-creator Jeremy Wilhelm, portraying several small roles, accompanied by his musician-musical director-composer-pianist brother, David, who supplies strange sound effects with designer Robert Kaplowitz. Their heart-pounding train rhythms and eerie effects during Poe’s travels, throb with intensity. The group also runs a steady video stream of da

tes, etc. across a top bar of the stage, which erroneously lists Poe’s age at the time of his death at 38. According to records, Poe was born Jan. 19, 1809 in Boston, and died in Baltimore Oct. 7, 1849. 

That said, there are imaginative scenes that knit together music, dance, comedy and tragedy, using few props, such as Wilhelm’s piano, three large tables that, when tipped or moved, convert into doors, train compartment doors, a prison door, a chicken coop, etc.

Two red mailboxes on both sides of the stage are symbolic reminders of the letters Poe exchanged with Muddy, who also edited his works.  Besides “Lygeia,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Raven,” Poe’s writings about the Gold Rush and contemporary furniture are sung and recited.

Poe, the brilliant, immortal poet-mystery writer-critic-essayist, is reduced to a muttering, bumbling, awkward figure who wants to publicize and recite his latest work, “Eureka,”  a treatise on the origins and ultimate collapse of the universe, which he considers his triumph. But his audiences, especially to the Philadelphia Literary Society, only want him to recite his masterpiece, “The Raven”. So he does -at a warp speed that would render an auctioneer breathless.

Poe is continuously haunted, enveloped, embraced, intertwined, by the ghostly image of his 13-year-old bride-cousin, Virginia, (sinuous choreographer Sophie Bortolussi). Their marriage had produced a maelstrom of public outrage and criticism. Sadly, Virginia “burst a blood vessel in her throat,”  or more medically, contracted tuberculosis. She suffered a horrible bedridden existence until her untimely death six years later.

She emerges from the grass beneath Poe, twirling herself around his body. Like the raven, she perches above his cabinet, lies in a fetal position on the floor or coiled up under his desk or bed. She sits at the dinner table, stands atop it, floats above him, sits with him in his chair, fluidly wrapping herself around him. She empties his suitcase, throwing his clothes in the air, on the floor, or wearing them.  

And when Poe becomes lost in Baltimore after taking the wrong train,he hallucinates he’s in a Spanish restaurant, with Virginia bedecked in colorful,traditional garb, larger than life, dancing on wooden stilts.   And on it goes, to its dreary, jagged ending. Anyone up for a vintage Vincent Price horror movie instead? 

"Red Eye to Havre de Grace" (13 - 16 February)
@ Paramount Center, 559 Washington Street, BOSTON, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide