Monday, January 25, 2010

Edgar Allan Poe Birthday Celebration in Baltimore, Maryland

Poe Monument

I have been a devoted reader of the works of Edgar Allan Poe for a long time and this weekend I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to make a literary pilgrimage to Baltimore, Maryland, to the grave site of Edgar Allan Poe. On my arrival in Baltimore I stayed at the Hilton Baltimore Hotel overlooking the Oriole's Stadium and traveled to the graveyard at Westminster Hall on West Fayette Street and visited both the original gravesite and the monument. The inspiration for this journey came from a special issue of Rue Morgue Magazine featuring Poe.
Since 1982, The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum has sponsored "The Annual Edgar Allan Poe Birthday Celebration". With such talented actors such as John Astin portraying Poe in the past, this years celebration will be unique. Popular cult/B-horror movie actor Jeffrey Combs ("Re-Animator", "From Beyond", "Frighteners") portrays Poe in a new one-man show called "Nevermore...An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe", previously performed last summer at the Steve Allen Theatre in Los Angeles, California. Having also played Poe recently in the Showtime series Masters of Horror in the episode "The Black Cat" (Available on DVD), Combs was the perfect choice to portray Poe in this remarkable 90-minute performance. Writer Dennis Paoli and director Stuart Gordon, who also worked with Combs previously on "The Black Cat" and other films collaborated on the development of this incredibly unique theatrical performance. Make-up artist Kayla Barry was responsible for transforming Combs into Poe by adding a nose-piece and wig to turn him into the poet for the show. "Nevermore" recreates the public appearances and recitals Poe presented during the last years of his life. Set in 1848 a year after the death of his beloved wife (and cousin) Virginia from Tuberculosis and a year before his own mysterious death in Baltimore. Jeffrey Combs presents an all-too real portrayal of the troubled and alcoholic writer by reciting several of Poe's tales and poems wile in period costume and with only limited props. The play is performed without intermission or interruption. During the performance Combs/Poe also discusses his philosophies on writing and poetry along with some biographical information and some of his views on various peers (i.e. Walt Whitman).
Official Program

As the play begins, there is a somber single cello providing mood setting music as Poe emerges from the darkness onto a dark stage. As he lights a candle the spotlight comes up and illuminates as Poe recites his poem "Alone". After a brief introduction Poe then reads his short-story "The Tell-Tale Heart". After this, Poe addresses a fictional member of the audience his short-lived fiancé, widow Helen Whitman and recites both poems entitled "To Helen" and others. All the while, Poe has been drinking from a small half-pint whiskey (tea) bottle in his jacket pocket and becomes increasingly intoxicated. As he follows by explaining his views on writing and poetry he begins to rant, criticizing authors such as Washington Irving and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Soon he follows with "The Bells" in an incredibly manic display to the point of actually falling off the stage in a drunken stupor. Soon as he apologizes to the audience and composes himself he talks about his departed wife Virginia while holding a pressed flower he found in his book and recites "The City in the Sea" and "Annabel Lee". Soon he finishes the performance by reciting his most well-known poem, "The Raven" and closes with "A Dream Within a Dream" and ends the show by blowing out the candle...While some may expect any portrayal of Poe to be somber and solemn, Combs performance depicts a more eccentric and often unstable version as Poe's intoxication worsens throughout the show until the ultimate climax when he literally collapses on stage.
L to R: Paoli, Gordon, Combs, & Host
 After the performance there was an indepth interview with Paoli, Gordon and Combs. During the Q&A both Gordorn and Combs mentioned rumors of possibly taking the "Nevermore" performance on tour and the release of a DVD! I also had the pleasure of meeting Paoli and Gordon before the performace and met with COmbs after the performance and got their autographs! I had the priviledge of meeting Combs at the Texas Frightmare Weekend Convention in 2007. Where he also signed my DVD of Re-Animator! 
Original Burial Place of Poe

This was defintiely a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I shall not forget it. I spent most of my time exploring the old graveyard at Westminster Hall and left a pen on the Poe monument. This was a deeply fulfilling experience and my only regret was I was unable to visit the actual Poe House and Museum due to their irregular hours. 
Afterthouhts: Edgar Allan Poe's 201st birthday (born January 20, 1809) also marks a perplexing end to a long year old tradition as the mysterious Poe birthday toaster. For the last 60 years, a mysterious robed figure had been leaving roses and a half bottle of cognac at the grave site of Poe in Baltimore, Maryland, early in the morning. This year marks the first time in the long unbroken tradition that the Poe toaster failed to appear! Nevermore...