Spend 'An Evening with Poe' at new Maryland Theatre
It’s not enough to be dreary or dark. It had to have once been light. In fact, life had to have been really good, and it can’t ever be again, actor Jacob Reese said.
Such are the morose themes that will run through Maryland Entertainment Group’s “An Evening with Poe,” Thursday, Oct. 17 through Sunday, Oct. 20 at The View Studio at the newly-renovated Maryland Theatre. “An Evening with Poe” will feature Edgar Allan Poe impersonator Todd Loughry, who has been portraying the 19th century writer of mystery and macabre for more than 15 years. Alongside a cast of roughly a dozen actors, dancers and musicians, Loughry will serve as host, leading the audience through chilling tales and offering insights into the mind of Poe.
“MEG has combined different works — short stories and poems. We’ll present the stories in play form. In this particular iteration, some things are put to music,” Reese said. “It’s a great celebration of Poe. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a lot of fun to work on.”
MEG has presented “An Evening with Poe” featuring Loughry in previous years, each time changing the content and exploring and presenting new material.
In Reese’s first turn with the show, he portrays Fortunato in the staging of “The Cask of Amontillado.” The story, which is about a man taking fatal revenge on a friend who he believes has insulted him, centers around Fortunato being buried alive.
“The story is about feeling revenge, hating, loathing and suffering in silence. Even if none of us have sealed up enemies in an underground tomb, carried out a brutal, murderous revenge, we’ve probably all thought about doing it at least once,” Reese laughed. “The story deals with the oldest of emotions, of revenge. It is served, in this case, extremely cold.”
Portraying Fortunato, the character who gets walled up, has been exhausting, he said. Playing around with the relationship between the stories’ two characters right up to the moment when Fortunato is chained to the wall with no possibility of reversal of his fate has been intense.
“Fortunato has been in this superior position to Montresor the entire time,” Reese said. “Long story short, there is a power dynamic in which Fortunato thinks he is in charge. Montresor is letting him play the sniveling sycophant to a certain extent, then the roles are reversed and we start to see the truth of the matter. Fortunato talked a big game, but who was really in charge the whole time?”
Reese also plays Jonathan Beringer in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which includes themes of madness, the metaphysical, family and isolation. The MEG telling of that tale incorporates a number of technical elements, in contrast to the stark staging of “Cask,” which features only two actors and the stage.
“It’s been a process of figuring everything out and feeling it through, about constant realizations. We studied the dynamics, how to deliver the lines,” Reese said. “That has completely changed and turned around. I think we have finally hit the money and we are where we want to be.”
Poe is good at hitting on emotions that people don’t always let out, and his boldness in facing those topics resonates with readers, Reese said.
“Hatred can build up and can be carried out and that is not the best thing. It can lead to horror and revulsion. Poe delves into the insecurities and fragilities of the human mind. He attacks us where we feel uncomfortable,” he said. “Poe is uncomfortable, and I think that’s why people like to look at it. They are not used to it. But it’s safe because it’s a poem, a song, a story.”
Poe, who wrote classics including “Annabel Lee,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Purloined Letter” and “The Raven,” worked for many years in Baltimore, and died there.
Seth Thompson, who plays Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” and directs “The Fall of the House of Usher,” described “An Evening with Poe” as “almost like a greatest hits.”
“We take these stories and poems and reimagine them. People see something familiar and something new. It’s a nice treat for our audience,” he said.
MEG staged editions of “An Evening with Poe” before Thompson got on board several years ago. After a couple of MEG seasons that did not include the show, Thompson said, he is happy to be a part of its return.
Thompson commended Loughry’s “great comedic timing and charm,” and said he narrates the evening and interacts with the crowd. Thompson attributes the popularity and staying power of the Poe-inspired production to the late writer himself.
“I think that all the props have to go to Poe. People just love these stories. There is something about the way he writes that captures people’s imaginations,” Thompson said.
“An Evening with Poe” has always run around Halloween “for obvious reasons.”
“People want to see something spooky around that time,” he said. “Instead of staying home and watching a horror movie on Netflix, they can buy a ticket and have a fun evening out.”
MEG is pleased to present the first theatrical production in the new space of The View Studio at The Maryland Theatre following its grand opening.
“It’s pretty cool moving into the new space of the renovated Maryland Theatre, to be the first group to perform in there,” Thompson said. “It’s really exciting.”
Top photo: Seth Thompson, left, portrays Montresor, and Jacob Reese stars as the jester Fortunato in MEG’s staging of “The Cask of Amontillado” in “An Evening with Poe.” (Courtesy of Perk Hull Design)