Edgar Allan Poe is Alive in Death (Nevermore, Kay Meek Centre, to March 14)

Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, at Kay Meek Centre, March 11-14.

Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe is one of the more intense theatrical productions I have seen this year, and in fact one of the most intense productions that I have ever seen (a couple exceptions come to mind, but not many). Most of the musical is done as numbers, although there are some spoken scenes as well.

The set and the costumes work together to produce a semi-hallucinatory, diaphanous yet substantive, and magic realist mood. Except “mood” is not sufficient to describe the overwhelming atmosphere that adds so much to the portrayal of fear, horror, entrapment that we see throughout.

Be aware that this musical does not adhere closely to the actual facts of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, so far as we know them. While such discrepancies often bother me, in this musical I felt that it did such a good job of portraying the emotional reality of Edgar Allan Poe that I could easily overlook historical discrepancies. Upon further research, I realized that much of what we know about Poe’s biography arose from his archrival and nemesis Rufus Griswold, who went to the trouble of publishing a scurrilous and largely untrue biography about Poe after his death. So what, then, is truth?

That said, we do know some things about Edgar Allan Poe. He did suffer the loss of so many that were close to him. At age 27, Poe married his 13-year-old first cousin Virginia (Sissy) Clem. Even in those days, such a marriage was not universally approved of. He was probably involved in an extramarital affair with Mrs. Samuel Osgood. Edgar Allan Poe, perhaps influenced by an unfortunate family disposition, was an addict of alcohol and opium, as he so sadly describes.

“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.”

Certainly, in Poe’s works we can see the visible evidence of these torturing memories, of the insupportable loneliness, and the dreadful feeling of impending doom. This musical also makes Poe’s suffering very clear.

From where we sat, near the centre of the auditorium (a very attractive one, almost like a baby Chan Centre with a few extra flourishes), there were times where one voice sang over the primary voice, or the text of the songs was not clear. But we never lost the gist of the story, and these were only minor glitches.

My friend and I emerged stunned from this production (which lasted more than 2.5 hours), but we were thoroughly impressed by the music, the singing, the acting, the costumes, and most of all, the story. We definitely did not pick up all the Poe story allusions, although I can see they dot the script. Poe’s life was not a feel-good story; this musical does not try to make it so. Thus, it is inevitable that sadness and despair, punctuated by moments of great happiness, pervade. I recommend, though, that you take a walk on the dark side and see this production, and allow yourself to be immersed in the tragic world of Edgar Allan Poe.

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