From the very first chords of the Nevermore opening song, you too may be struck by how playwright/composer Jonathan Christenson has captured the creepy affect of Edgar Allen Poe’s works and put it into song. The engaging cast accents the score with gestures and expressions that some might find a tad campy or clunky, but riveting nonetheless. In an instant you realize too that it is all in rhyme—more Dr. Seuss-like than Poe-ish.
It’s both the story and the music that makes this play so worthwhile. We meet this icon of American literature—the progenitor of entire literary genres—in a simpler world where people were simply classed ne’er do wells, rather than given DSM labels of bipolar or in need of 12-step program intervention. It was also a time when tuberculosis ravaged the population, and when most families lost members quite frequently to that or other disease.
Playwright Christenson hews to the main events in Poe’s life that added up to him being one helluva haunted guy. In Christenson’s re-telling, the demons that chase Poe are the very ones that infuse his creative juices. Misery is his muse, and that gives this talented cast a whole lot to sing about.
Though mustached as a real-world Poe later was, Kevin Webb gives us the terror-struck orphan Poe as a child, then seamlessly morphing to the dissolute alcoholic the writer later became. Six other actors work as an ensemble, breaking out into character roles along the way–Megan DeLay as Poe’s earliest love interest Elmira Royster, Jessica Lauren Fisher as Poe’s mother, Ryan Lanning as Poe’s brother, Matt McNabb as his step-father, Maiko Terazawa as his step-mother, and Jeremy Trager as his sometime friend and publisher. They all give solid performances, with Maiko Terazawa especially magnetic and engaging.
Early on you too may worry that the score is forcing several of the male voices into foreign contratenor zones beyond their reach. This writer though found the cast’s musical performance of the compelling score exhilarating. The band is three keyboards (Nick Sula, Michael Evans, TJ Anderson) and percussion (Cali Kasten).
Standout Features from Black Button Eyes Production Production Team
The sound engineering (Kirstin Johnson) in this production often brought appreciative smiles to this writer and seemed an especially appropriate match to the appropriately bare bones set that mainly focused on Poe’s bed where nightmares reigned supreme (Set Designer and Technical Director Jeremy Hollis). You can also expect some fun and creative takes on costuming and props (Props and Puppet Designer: Rachelle “Rocky” Kolecke and Costume and Mask Designer: Beth Laaske-Miller).
How interesting that the playwright is a Canadian and not from the USA, where, at least for older generations, memorizing a Poe poem was an elementary school rite of passage.
Theater goers who like the polish of big budget Broadway productions might be a tad disappointed. However, if you love small theater energy Black Button Eyes Productions more than delivers. Anyone fascinated by Poe and his literary legacy will find much to feast upon here.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Thru January 28
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays 7:30 PM
Sundays 3:00 PM
Added matinees: 2 PM – January 13, 20, 27
The Edge Theater
5451 North Broadway