'Somewhat Damaged' Ideas Infect Staged Poe

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Allison Quady Arts Editor

“Somewhat Damaged” promised us much mysterious madness to come by opening the play with Nicole Lebouef’s ’02 enchanting delivery of “The Conqueror Worm” by Edgar Allen Poe. Writer/actor Alex Poe ’03 may have had in mind the calling of the sinister muse and the preparing of the audience for his second Redux Theatre Company play this semester. Undoubtedly, we have noticed a trend in re-presentations, in re-articulations of one artist’s work into another artist’s form of expression: music to stage in “Frank’s Wild Years” and now poetry to script in this most recent Redux. This time the investigation is into the diseased genius of 19th century mystery man Edgar Allen Poe. Whether for the fun of expressing Tom Waits’ gorgeously gloomy song in story, or for the thrill of creating Edgar Allen Poe’s world of sin in front of an audience, writer Alex Poe has found a niche for his original expression by recreating the themes of past masterpieces.

In the Redux of the weekend, the intrigue for me was the mystery in which the confused protagonist had trapped himself by his mind’s creations. Forewarned by punk nymph Lebouef of my eminent descent into madness with the magical words of spellbinding poetry, I shivered with pleasure at being drawn away from my Thursday night and into director Joe Varca’s ’02 stylized world. The stripe of light on Ben Correale’s ‘03.5 grave face, the circle of light touching Tim Brownell’s ’02 cheeks and the darkness invading every corner except for the harshly lit small spaces of light, magnified the splotches of intense illumination engendered by E. A. Poe’s mental pits of darkness.

As theatre designers are known to say, it was a “black show,” offset in the purest sense by Susie Carter’s ’02 portrayal of E. A. Poe’s wife, Virginia, clothed in a long white nightgown, lying atop a black rectangular box. The sacrificial Virginia lay coughing in tubercular torment, looking at E. A. Poe with feverishly submissive eyes, embodying no doubt the illness manifested in E. A Poe’s own soul.

The action progressed in quick, short scenes and E. A Poe’s journeys between Virginia, his editor and his work became a flipbook leading to his decay.

Unlike the touching time with Virginia and the sinister experiences with Correale, the conflict between E. A. Poe and his editor (William, played by Brownell) was between two equals, two who inhabited the living sphere of humanity and who made their living, as humans must, in the real world. William’s reaction to E. A. Poe’s brilliance and madness was vital to the grounding and the layering of the play.

William’s advice to E. A. Poe, “more active, driven, less melancholy,” resonates with the ensuing, manic manner of the protagonist whose driven actions lead to murder. E. A. Poe’s immoral protagonist and his futile attempt to kill the idea poisoning his life brings his mental trauma to climax.

This idea, expressed repeatedly as a reason for murder, “because she(he) loves(d) me” or “for the love of God” places love in the arena as reason for crime, with no further attempt at justification.

The justification was not only lost, but purposefully absent and explained only by Correale’s character, playing E. A. Poe’s newly created protagonist come to life. Obsessed with committing wrong for wrong’s sake, Correale’s evil story about the hanging of the black cat dramatized words penned by E. A. Poe.

Correale’s inhumanely monotone presence and his simplistic dialogue with E. A. Poe expressed somewhat archetypal arguments brushing the iceberg of the great poet’s supersensitive, psychological criminality.

A more theatrical attempt to reach the depths of E. A. Poe’s criminal genius was enacted by the beckoning red light shown on the shade at the back of the stage, with Correale’s at first indistinguishable form cutting the thin material with a knife and the black shadow of his figure retreating into what I envisioned as hell.

In addition to this demonic moment, Correale’s frantic building and plastering onstage, the scraping of his tool and the physical feat of picking up the bricks and building the wall to bury the character played by Lebouef alive, brought to life the events of the E. A. Poe short story.

The plaster stuck to E. A. Poe’s hands and his own guilty conscience in vainly attempting to hide them, dissembled the line between crime writing and committing the crime.

The set, with the simple screens, the bricks, Virginia’s black rectangle and E. A Poe’s desk provided everything needed in the most minimalist manner. Each supporting character had his space in the life or mind of E. A. Poe and occupied a corresponding place on the stage.

While admiring the artistic expression in the staging, the set, the lighting and the contemporary industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails (specifically off the album Fragile), I became disenchanted with the journey of the diseased protagonist. Instead of exploring the sources for the confusion of love and hate in the mind of E. A Poe, the play dwelt in the effects of this unexplained madness. E. A Poe the man became E. A Poe the protagonist, under the control of his own creation, subsiding into ineffective and sensationalist murder.

“The human gore,” promised in the opening poem held tragically little meaning because the illumination or the arc that would have redeemed E. A. Poe’s diseased criminal actions was left lying latent.

Begun darkly, instead of widening in arc, “Somewhat Damaged,” tunneled downwards and suffered from a multi-dimensional protagonist interacting with his sinisterly one-dimensional creations.

Writer Alex Poe showed himself willing to jump in to the famously criminal genius of Edgar Allen unreservedly and impressively mingled poetry and story in his theatre.

So much more could be uncovered in a further rendering of E. A Poe, because it is criminality along with the rest of his human nature, which chills readers when reading his horror, next to his poetry, next to his science fiction and adventure stories.

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'Somewhat Damaged' Ideas Infect Staged Poe