Review by Tulis McCall
10 February 2015
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary – I wager that most of you recognize this line. As well, you have the feeling that there is a Nevermore lurking somewhere near by. Ah yes – that old Edgar Allen Poe fellow. The gloomy, and often terrifying, poet to whom most of us were introduced when we were in our early teenage years. My friend and I reflected on that delicious fact at the intermission of Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe at the New World Stages. How was it that our tender little brains were asked to focus on this particular writer. It was all murder and guilt and gloom. Sometimes trochaic octameter, sometimes prose. And there we were lapping it up. Because it was compelling. There was, in Poe’s work, something revealed about the man himself. We were reading Poe himself as well as his stories.
In this production, so exquisitely executed, Poe is the very thing that is missing. Scott Shpeley, is onstage the entire time. The story is that Poe is on a steamer going to New York while his fiancée, his childhood sweetheart, awaits back home. He meets a group of actors who knew of his mother, the actress Eliza Poe, and soon they are off to the races with a sort of This Is Your Life 19th century style.
What follows is a beautifully executed musical travelogue of Poe’s life. From the very beginning he was surrounded by people who left him. His father walked out. His mother died. He was separated from his siblings and sent to live with the Allan family. Women he loved died. And on and on and on.
But wait! It was the early 19th century, was it not? People were dropping right and left as a matter of course. Breathing alone was a dodgy bit of business. Penicillin was years away. Beer was preferable to water. Bathing was a luxury. Living a long life was a possibility but not likely. Which is why, in the end, none of these incidents – even combined – seems enough to drag Poe into the sad state where he dwelled. He wasn’t special because of his circumstances. We all know the cliff notes of Poe’s life. This production does not provide us with a deeper examination or new viewpoint. It simply dresses up the story we already know.
To be sure, this Poe is a narrative told with style – the set and costumes have an Edward Gorey meets Dr. Seuss precision and whimsy. The choreography is spare and edgy. The performers, almost to a person, are gems. The direction is spot on. The script entirely in verse and the music moves in and out of the tale seamlessly. A sort of Sweeny Todd atmosphere pervades throughout.
With this production, we are left with a story that has no glue, no center, no elements of conflict and desire. Thus, the execution of the tale cannot do more than keep us entertained and awake. The performers are hobbled. They cannot make magic out of the absence of plot.
In the end, all the sound and fury signifies nothing. And we, like Poe, are melancholy.
"More than its plot or score, what you’ll remember from the Poe musical 'Nevermore' is its look."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"2 1/2 hours of clumsy quatrains that feel like they're being pounded into your head."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
External links to full reviews from popular press...