Extraordinary But Not Unlikely: “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace”

Presented by ArtsEmerson
By Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental
Designed and Directed by Thaddeus Phillips
Choreography by Sophie Bortolussi
Music by Wilhelm Bros. & Co.
Created by Thaddeus Phillips, Jeremy Wilhelm, Geoff Sobelle, David Wilhelm, with Sophie Bortolussi

Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission
February 14 – 16, 2014
Emerson/Paramount Center Mainstage
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

From the Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental Website:
“On September 27, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe set out on a lecture tour from Virginia to New York. Days later a train conductor saw Poe in Havre de Grace, Maryland, wearing a stranger’s clothing and heading south to Baltimore where he died on October 7.”

(Boston) Boston is the birthplace of E.A. Poe. He was born on Boylston St. not far from the Paramount Center Mainstage theater. The building is commemorated by a small plaque. It’s fitting then that Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental brought Red-Eye to Havre de Grace, a macabre but unique perspective into the abstraction of the writer’s brain, to Poe’s home.

Red-Eye must be experienced to be digested. The plot is based on Poe’s last days as he traveled from a literary lecture in Virginia to Maryland. He expected to end his journey in New York. Alas, the events that caused him to divert to Maryland are a mystery. The team of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental use the facts they do know to fabricate the events of his adventure. Theirs is a hypothesis that factors in Poe’s encumbering mental health ailments, factual accounts from associates as well as potential energy from a creative mind suffering from great stress. The cast and crew have gone to great lengths to give as nonfictional an account as is possible. Although extraordinary in every aspect, Red-Eye is not an unlikely deduction.

The elements that string this production are as great as the whole. For example, Poe was an excellent poet but his works were only the skeleton if this production. It is fleshed out by the music of Wilhelm Bros & Co., the choreography of Sophie Bortolussi and near virtuosic light design by Drew Billiau. Thaddeus Phillips’ direction seamlessly smooths these components into a theatre event that reveals Poe’s character as it asks even more questions about his journey.

Amidst it all stands Ean Sheehy as the eerie title character. Sheehy has an uncanny resemblance to Poe. His understood mental stability as an actor falsely convinces the viewer that he is to be trusted and the surrounding characters are not. Sheehy’s Poe reacts to the strange and deranged events that play out on stage with relative indifference. His psychotic breakdown is presented as off-kilter normalcy rather than the tragedy it was. The audience believes him until his ascent into debilitating dementia is complete.

A big “thank you” to Ranger Steve for leading the pre-performance educational lecture on E.A. Poe’s legacy. His talk was very helpful towards understanding the production. He also has a versatile singing voice.

Poe’s last days are a fitting mystery for a man made famous through his works. Red-Eye is a treatise on Poe’s last days that incorporates fact, wild imaginings, and a thoughtfully hypothesised resolution. Not for the feint of heart or light of disposition. It is Tim Burton-eque in topic and realization of subject. It will perk the interests of historians and fans of ingenuity and/or abstract theatre. Due to sexual overtones, this one is not for kids under 13 or adult prudes.

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