Once upon an APEX stage, Edgar Poe’s words flew off the page. Blurring the line twixt his text and life, the play unfolds like forgotten lore. In this chamber the tales are told, for it has a name: “Nevermore.”
Written by California playwright Matt Ritchey and infusing elements of Steampunk (think of a retro-futuristic vision of the Victorian Era and you’re on the right track), “Nevermore” is an original work that looks to turn the life and macabre works of Edgar Allen Poe on their head.
“What if we took Edgar Allen Poe and put him into his own short stories,” said director Joshua Carpenter. “It’s a fictional story based on his stories that combines elements from ‘The Raven,’ ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ‘The Cask of Amontillado.’ ... It’s not your typical Poe. It’s a younger Edgar Allen Poe. It still has the murder and intrigue and intensity, but you’re definitely coming to see an original production based on his stories. You’re coming to see what Matt Ritchey interprets as a Poe piece.”
However, it isn’t merely a waltz through Poe’s work. It functions on a couple levels with its mystery and character work while also featuring ample use of Poe’s motifs, elements, characters and iconography to excite and draw in the author’s more hardcore fans. Specifically, the story finds Poe as he visits his friend Monty (aka Montresor from “The Fall of the House of Usher”), who lives in a crumbling mansion. The two set out to solve the mystery of Monty’s missing parents and his sister, Lenore, all as Poe is forced to confront his dark past.
“It has the writing and the concepts. There’s a painting of Lenore. Monty is basically all of Poe’s secondary characters condensed into one. Edgar Allen Poe is basically all of his dark characters put into one,” Carpenter said. “I love that it has a lot of underlying currents that you don’t really see. All of the actors have so many layers that you’re ripping apart as each scene progresses. They all have hidden secrets.”
Carpenter said Ritchey wasn’t out to deconstruct Poe’s work or have the play serve as a sort of meta-commentary on the stories referenced. Instead, it functions more as a tribute than anything else.
“If anything, I think, it enhances the works and it brings a new audience to Edgar Allen Poe,” he said. “One thing I love about Poe … I love the way he wrote such intensity. And when you’re performing it, it can make your heart go crazy. And I think that’s one thing that will be great with this show, the intensity will really have the audience guessing at what’s coming next.”
And while its roots dig deep into the collected works of Poe, it still retains a level of accessibility for those not fully versed in his life and stories.
“There are a lot of people who know of him, but they don’t know his work and he was a really amazing writer,” Carpenter said. “He was a very dark man, but he didn’t start that way. When he first started, he was very light. ‘Berenice’ wasn’t this dark, sinister thing, but there was a twist of the darkness coming. With ‘Nevermore,’ as things start to unravel you start to see that dark, sinister side come out more and more and it’s not going to be what you expect.”
“Nevermore” opens at 7:30 tonight at Theater 20 @ Potter Place. However, on Saturday, a special event will follow the performance. In honor of Poe’s birthday on Sunday, APEX will be holding a birthday party with drinks, music and readings of Poe’s work. Requested attire is clothing appropriate for a funeral (they are celebrating Poe, after all) or Steampunk-style costumes.
Admission for all performances are $20. Theater 20 is at 719 W. Front St., suite 20, on the bottom floor of the Energy Building. For additional information, to reserve tickets or to see additional performance dates, visitwww.apextheatre20.com .