NY Theater Review, Sandi Durell


If you’re craving to find out about E.A. Poe and his final days before he died at age 40, then get thee to NY Theatre Workshop where you’ll be steeped in gothic story and poetry in this most unlikely dark, yet comical and bizarre musical conceit by Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental.

You’ll be carried away on long train rides from Philadelphia to Baltimore to New York as the collaborative group provides an ultra talented 4-some of singing, dance movements, musicianship and acting. The score is written and performed by David and Jeremy Wilhelm (Wilhelm Bros. & Co.), Jeremy playing Ranger Steve from the Poe National Historic Site who greets us in Philadelphia in a down home manner, giving some backstory and then singing Poe’s poem “The Conqueror Worm;” David providing not only piano background but a myriad of effects on the open piano board.

Poe, a lithe and eerie Ean Sheehy, consumed by grief at the loss of his wife Virginia from tuberculosis, possesses the soul of the man; Virginia (played by Alessandra L. Larson), whom Poe married when she was 13 (she was also his cousin), appears in ghost-like settings as she haunts his every moment, speaking only through her physicality and graceful movement. There are times when you feel you’re watching a mini Cirque du Soleil as the two crawl, twist and turn on each other and thru openings, as doors fall and rise, chairs move and small windows open and close. She, at one point, appears on a bed suspended at the top of the stage from which she makes her way dramatically down twirling on fabric. She also appears as a Spanish dancer on stilts.

All the while Poe, consumed by addiction to laudanum, endeavors to get back to his “Muddy” (Virginia’s mother) train after train after train as his poetry and short stories – “Annabel Lee,” “El Dorado,” (English and Spanish) “The Raven” are recited and sung. Poe is ravaged by nightmares and paranoia unable to escape his demons. He suffered from mental illness and at the end whispers “I was never really insane, except on occasion that my heart was touched.”

The story is presented in 3 Acts within 90 minutes. Injections of humor sometimes work or not, as in this case when we hear a recording of Neil Diamond singing “Done Too Soon,” at the moment when Poe is lying comatose on the floor, as Ranger Steve jokes “that didn’t go too well.”

The performances are certainly top notch, with dance movements by Sophie Bortolussi and the use of sparse scenic pieces by director Thaddeus Phillips creating their own graceful arrangements. However, the presentation can be tedious unless you are an E.A. Poe aficionado.

New York Theater Workshop, 79 East Fourth Street, East Village; 212-279-4200, nytw.org. Through June 1. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

Photo: Johanna Austin