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Nevermore/ El Centro Theatre Chaplin Stage / Los Angeles

Reviewed by Ethan Silver

Nevermore image oneWhen one thinks of Edgar Allan Poe, you think of the delightfully disturbing and macabre short stories for which he is most famous, so it follows that a play inspired by Poe and his stories would have the same dark tones and flavor of that which he is known.  Welcome to Nevermore, a fictional account of Poe’s life adapted for the stage.  The stage is set with worn armchairs placed around a small coffee table and in the background over the fireplace, a spot-lit picture of a beautiful woman.  The dim lighting, warm colors and ominous music set the tone reminiscent of a darker version of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

We are inside the house of Poe’s childhood friend Monty (Briton Green), as he and his lawyer, Catherwood (Steve Peterson) prepare the building for sale.  We learn the two have not seen each other for some time, but Monty had invited Poe (Joseph Gilbert) to get a last look of the property and to assist him in its final days.  The two reminisce about childhood memories in the house including those of Monty’s sister, Lenore (Chloe Whiteford), who, according to Monty, has been out traveling the world leaving only postcards as breadcrumbs.  However, Poe is famous for his mysteries and to take anything at face value would be folly.  Enter Dudley (William Knight) the curmudgeon of a caretaker and instigator, planting the seeds of malignment in the plot.  The characters reveal some disturbing behavior as everyone has a secret.  Is there another reason for Poe’s visit?  What is in the locked wine cellar?  The fun in this thriller is to keep imagining.

Playwright / Director Matt Ritchey pays homage to Poe’s style, opening the piece slowly and allowing the actors to include pregnant pauses during key moments, effecting either planned tension or a feeling of discomfort which adds to the mood.  Other references to Poe’s body of work are found in the dialogue, story and set dressings, and may be as subtle as a single line.  Fans of Poe will recognize elements of The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven and The Black Cat written into the script. 

The five actors charged with bringing the story to life do a solid job with the material.  Although seen only for a few fleeting minutes at a time, Steve Peterson is a ball of energy as the family lawyer and fun to watch onstage.  William Knight’s portrayal of Dudley the caretaker presents as delightfully odd and the audience cannot help but chuckle at his expressions and gruff-voiced devotion to character.  Chloe Whiteford’s Lenore is perfectly surreal and raises questions concerning the character’s worldly nature.

Carrying the show are the characters of Edgar Allan Poe and his friend Monty played by Joseph Gilbert and Briton Green.  Visually, Gilbert is spot-on Poe and delivers an enjoyable and solid performance, however, one familiar with the works and biography of the man would not expect him to be as jovial and “normal” at the onset as so manifested in the play.  However, this is a fictional account which allows for any and all interpretations.  This being said, Gilbert delivers a noteworthy performance.  Green plays a believable Monty with a steadfast demeanor, perfect for the character; however, taking a bit more time delivering dialogue in the first act will make his performance that much better.  This by no means is a major deterrent but an aspect which can easily be enriched, if so chosen.

Nevermore not only features solid acting but it also possesses a great set and lighting design (Davis Campbell / David J. Graybill Jr.), striking period costumes (Sarah Register) and an incredible soundtrack thanks to original music by Patrick Emswiler.  From the time you enter the theater, the audience is exposed to an incredibly eerie soundtrack which also plays during set changes.  This greatly heightens the experience and makes it more thrilling.  The Sound Designer, Christopher Burns takes the production to another level of reality by including ambient sounds such as howling winds and creaks that are barely audible during dialogue but enrich the silence between.  The sound design overall was very impressive.

With a story like this, the possibilities are endless.  If the walls of this sinister house could speak, what secrets would they reveal?  Murder?  Suicide?  Ghosts?  But do not be so brash as to think you know the truth.  With many clever twists and turns, Nevermore will keep you guessing and second-guessing through the final curtain.

Nevermore plays at the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood, CA Fridays / Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through Feb. 5th.