Encore Theatre's 'Nevermore' a dark and riveting look at troubled life of Edgar Allan Poe
Photo courtesy of Encore Theatre
For the next two weeks at least, the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe is alive and well and inhabiting the stage at Dexter’s Encore Theatre, thanks to the dark musical “Nevermore,” based loosely on the life of the poet and writer.
Encore co-founder and Broadway veteran Dan Cooney, who originated the role in 2006 in an acclaimed production near Washington, D.C. played Poe to perfection Friday night, aided by a small but able cast and accompanied by an off-stage trio of keyboard, cello and violin.
Set shortly before the author’s demise in 1849, “Nevermore,” uses Poe’s poetry and short stories as its base. It focuses on Poe’s lifetime of difficult relationships with women, among them Poe's judgmental mother; his sweet childhood friend Virginia; his first cousin, who became his child bride; his aunt, who became his surrogate mother; and a prostitute.
The first hint that this would be an atmospheric show was, well, atmospheric. As curtain time drew nigh, low rumbles of distant thunder built to a crescendo and the house lights flickered like lightning. The minimalist stage was made up of two canted platforms and a ramshackle back wall constructed of a few odd-sized boards.
Cooney, a symphony of black in his Victorian tailcoat, breeches and boots, and with dark shadows around his eyes, did an masterful job as the haunted, tortured Poe. I expected Cooney to sing beautifully and was not disappointed; I was not prepared for the goth/operatic feel of “Nevermore,” which was a pleasant surprise. Cooney also had the more subtle elements just right: Poe’s demons seemed to lurk just beneath the surface, betrayed by the tic of an eye or a catch in his voice.
The title of the show is drawn from Poe's "The Raven," a riveting performance of which figured prominently late in the one-act work. Bits of his short stories were there as well, read by Poe often to delight his young wife - that is until she realized his reality was more terrifying than his stories.
Of the five women who made up the rest of the cast, I especially liked Erin Donevan as The Whore. What a lovely, haunting and slightly bluesy voice, especially in “Dreamland” and "Eldorado." Her goth girl costume was terrific as well. Elizabeth Jaffe, as Virginia, brought the perfect mix of innocence and childlike trust to her role. Marlene Inman-Reilly, Thalia Schramm and Sonja Marquis completed the small cast.
This stylish production gets the theater’s new “Encore on the Edge” series off on exactly the right foot. "Nevermore" will continue at the Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m., and also March 17 at 7 p.m., March 18-19 at 8 p.m. and March 20 at 3 p.m. Tickets available at 734-268-6200 or www.theencoretheatre.org.