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A CurtainUp ReviewKilling an Evening with Edgar Allan Poe
. Jones presents a triptych of Poe's most thrilling stories: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, and The Raven. Even if you know these works as well as your own telephone number, you probably haven't heard them performed in a building that is extant with Poe's own lifetime, and only a stone toss away from his old homestead on Amity Street (now West 3rd. Street).
First up on the program was The Tell -Tale Heart. In it, a nameless narrator--who insists that he is sane--recounts his murdering of an old man with a "vulture eye" and how he concealed the body by chopping it into pieces and hiding it under the floorboards. Okay, it's not a bedtime story for the kiddies. But it is a riveting tale that can appeal to anyone over the age of 10. I was sitting next to a couple of tween-aged youngsters who were leaning in to catch each line.
Jones disappears into each protagonist as he dramatizes the three works, but also shares pertinent biographical facts about Poe's life following each piece. He confessed that it's almost impossible to pinpoint the precise date when Poe penned many of his stories. But he noted that many scholars believe that Poe began writing the The Tell-Tale Heart when he was living on Amity Street in 1845.
If the first story seemed the personification of horror, the next one, The Cask of the Amontillado, is a close cousin. In it, a man named Montresor is determined to take revenge against a man named Fortunato, who has humiliated him. Montresor later meets Fortunato at a carnival, entices him into the catacombs of his home, and entombs him there. Jones launched into the macabre tale, freely moving throughout the parlor to frame pivotal moments against the handsome 19th century architecture of the Merchant House. He infuses fresh emotional energy into Poe's language with his protean body language and facial expressions. True, reading The Cask of the Amontillado can be a gripping white-knuckled experience. But, in the double-parlor at the Merchant House, one can aurally experience it with other Poe aficionados and enjoy it as a community happening. In fact, by the time Jones arrived at the tale's end and intoned the famous last line—“In pace requiescat!” (Rest in peace!)—the audience seemed to collectively gasp at the nightmarish ending to the grisly tale.
The final offering, The Raven, has never sounded more haunting. Instead of moving throughout the room as he did for the prose works, Jones rooted himself to a podium at the front of the parlor, which surprisingly seemed to intensify the romantic longing of the lover in question, whose life appeared to be frozen in time without the lost Lenore at his side. The incantatory refrain of the word “nevermore” in the work tends to have a mesmerizing effect on listeners. And it was no accident that the parlor became quiet as a tomb as we listened to Poe's most famous work rendered with meticulous articulation.
Jones wrapped up the evening by explaining to us that Killing an Evening with Edgar Allan Poe is a work-in-progress for him and that tackling this new venture has stretched his theatrical muscles. He plans to continue to develop the theater piece into something more substantial in the future.
Too bad Poe himself couldn't hear Jones and savor his own tales in a building that is a relic from his own day.
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Killing an Evening with Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by Dr. Rhonda Dodd
Cast: John Kevin Jones
At the Merchant House Museum, 29 East Fourth Street, East Village. From 10/12/18; closing 10/31/18.
Ten performances only; remaining performances: 10/15 at 7pm, 10/16 at 7pm, 10/22 at 7pm, 10/23 at 5pm & 7pm, 10/31 at 6:30pm & 8:30pm.
For more information, visit www.merchantshouse.org Running time: one hour with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 10/12/18
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