Poe’s Existentialism by Gaslight

(L To R) Resident acting company members Brian McEleney and and Phyllis Kay with Brown/Trinity Rep MFA ’12 actor Charlie Thurston as Young Edgar Poe.in the world premiere of Stephen Thorne’s The Completely Fictional – Utterly True – Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe. Set Design by Susan Zeeman Rogers, Costume Design by William Lane and Lighting Design by Keith Parham. Photo by Mark Turek.

The Completely Fictional-Utterly True-Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe by Stephen Thorne, Trinity Repertory Company, Dowling Theater, 5/6/11-6/11/11, http://www.trinityrep.com/on_stage/current_season/ST.php.

Reviewed by Becca Kidwell

Something delightfully macabre is happening at Trinity Rep.  Even Edgar Allan Poe is beside himself–literally.  Stephen Thorne spins an atmospheric tale that combines true facts, speculation, and gothic fiction in his new play The Completely Fictional-Utterly True-Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe. Trinity Rep’s world premiere entices the senses, questions reality, questions meaning, and ushers in a new form of ghost story.

Thorne’s play begins with Edgar Allan Poe in the hospital–unsure of how he got there but the attendants tell him he is dying.  Poe explores his own demise and tries to find meaning through the senses.  In the first act, he denies that he is dying and tries to discover a way to stop death.  His memory of his work with a mesmerist only to return to his hospital bed.  In the second act, he tries to blame his younger self for his current condition.  But, as he confronts his younger self, Young Poe decides to end the pain and bitterness actively.  The third act sends Poe to a higher philosophical state.  He calls upon Charles Dickens to try to understand the experience he has gone through and the experiences that is going through.  Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Stephen Thorne’s Poe seeks answers to unanswerable questions; only through storytelling can Poe account for his own experiences, even though he cannot really account for his own experiences.

Brian McEleney demonstrates his versatility as he steps out from the director’s chair (Absurd Person Singular and The Crucible) and embodies Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe controls all of the action and yet the action controls him.  McEleney displays the contradiction, confusion, restraint, and agitation that Poe might have suffered upon his own demise.  Charlie Thurston, as Young Poe, mirrors McEleney’s performance.  Unlike his counterpart, Young Poe has not yet become embittered and acts with confidence and abandon.  By the end of act two, the older Poe has lived out the moral of his tale “William Wilson” by not accepting responsibility for his own pain and misery.

Lauren Lubow plays the sweet wife of Poe, Virginia.  Her innocence and pain is multiplied as she torments both Poes.  Phyllis Kay haunts the stage as death and Poe’s mother.  For the majority of the time she is silent, but when she speaks, the gravity in her tone of voice and in the words reaches into the depth of the human soul.  Fred Sullivan, Jr.  plays the genial, yet arrogant, Charles Dickens.  The Charles Dickens of the play is primarily a construct of Poe’s own imagination; however, Sullivan challenges what little control Poe truly has over anything by allowing Dickens to be insubordinate and critical of Poe’s thoughts.  Fred Sullivan, Jr. contrasts McEleney’s neurotic Poe by giving Dickens strength, presence, and a British literary swagger.  Angela Brazil, Stephen Berenson, Mauro Hantman, and Joe Wilson, Jr. amplify the tension as doctors, nurses, and scientists.

The set design by Susan Zeeman Rogers and the lighting design by Keith Parham create an ominous Victorian salon for Poe’s story.  Parham utilizes lighting techniques from early theatre productions that cast odd shadows and heighten the eerie atmosphere.  Curt Columbus uses the folded dollhouse set to move in and out of each reality and fiction.  Columbus honors the gothic storytelling tradition and transports the audience to the Victorian period.

It is hard to decide where Poe ends and Stephen Thorne begins; Thorne has fully possessed the mood, tone, and style of Poe’s work in such a way that one could imagine that Poe had actually possessed him.  Out of the darkness comes illumination of how human beings examine and try to avoid death.  Trinity Rep’s cohesive production that fills the audience fear, trembling, and wonder.  TNETG.  5/15/11.






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    PROVIDENCE – A panel discussion on the life and literature of Edgar Allan Poe, featuring playwright Stephen Thorne, Brown Professor of English Philip Gould, and Providence Athenaeum Director of Member Services, Programs and Development Christina Bevilacqua will take place on Saturday, May 21 at 1pm in the Dowling Theater. Free and open to the public, this panel is made possible by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independent state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    Poe’s style and sensibilities inspired writers from Arthur Conan Doyle to Stephen King. His lurid subject matter, his dense, poetic language and his tragic, macabre persona continues to fascinate, even 150 years after his death. Panelists will discuss Poe’s work and delve into the events of his life which drove him to artistic inspiration and personal despair, paying particular attention to how his personal life is reflected in his stories. No reservations are required to attend.

    “To be able to offer this Sym-POE-sium in conjunction with our world premiere production of The Completely Fictional – Utterly True – Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe is a treat,” said Artistic Director Curt Columbus, who will helm the production, opening on May 5. “I look forward to hearing what our panelists as well as the community have to say about this magnificent master of mystery.”
    Resident company member Stephen Thorne’s The Completely Fictional – Utterly True – Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe, directed by Artistic Director Curt Columbus, will take audiences deep into the mysteries surrounding the author’s untimely death from May 6 to June 5 in the intimate Dowling Theater. Tickets are on sale now at the Trinity Rep box office, 201 Washington St.; by phone at (401) 351-4242; and online at http://www.trinityrep.com. The production is sponsored by Ocean State Job Lot.

    Weird science and brilliant madness collide in this rich ensemble piece featuring the talents of resident acting company members Brian McEleney (Edgar Allan Poe), Stephen Berenson (Kindly Doctor, ensemble), Angela Brazil (Valdemar, ensemble), Mauro Hantman (Doctor Moran, ensemble), Phyllis Kay (Eliza Poe, ensemble), Fred Sullivan Jr. (Charles Dickens, ensemble) and Joe Wilson Jr. (Religious Doctor, ensemble) along with Brown/Trinity Rep MFA ’12 actors Lauren Lubow (Virginia) Charlie Thurston (Young Edgar Poe).

    “This is the kind of work that can only be developed at a theater like Trinity Rep, with a resident acting company to support the scale of its creation,” stated Columbus, who has nurtured this ambitious project from the start. “To be able to continue to commit to bold new work – and to close our 2010-2011 season with a show that has been generated from within our resident company – is a thrilling opportunity.”

    Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities