Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Playwright Puts The "Poe" In Poetry

The year 2009 marks the bicentennial of the birth of America's unrivaled genius of the Gothic horror genre, poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe. Angelenos, and those planning a visit to the City of Angels in the coming weeks, may mark the two-hundredth swing of Poe's pendulum by attending a performance of Nevermore, a one-man show now in a limited engagement at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood.

The play, written by Hunter College literature professor Dennis Paoli, is framed as an evening's lecture circuit reading by the Bard of Baltimore. Present among the listeners is one especially dear to Edgar Allan's tell-tale heart, Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman. As the play opens, Mrs. Whitman is poised to become Poe's second wife. (The first having been his doomed cousin, Virginia, wed to the poet at age 13 and buried a scant 11 years later.)

Alas, despite the fact that the wedding of Mrs. Whitman and Poe came so close to happening that at least one newspaper published an announcement celebrating the marriage and wishing the couple happiness, the nuptials were never(more) to be. As Mrs. Whitman whiled away a pleasant afternoon at the library, she became the recipient of an anonymous letter detailing Poe's violation of a vow to abstain from alcohol, as well as rumors of his very recent courtships of two other sweethearts. Needless to say the honeymoon was over before it began.

Nevermore dramatizes all too painfully the shattering blow Mrs. Whitman's rejection inflicted on Poe's already fragile psyche. Less than a year after the broken engagement Poe was dead. The circumstances of his demise remain hauntingly mysterious to this day, variously ascribed to suicide, drug overdose, alcoholism, or a litany of diseases.

And one last enticement. Whether as a tribute to Poe's perpetual penury, or a sign of our own battles with depression of the financial variety, tickets to Nevermore are priced at a paltry ten bucks.

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