AISLE SAY Florida
MURDER BY POE
by Jeffrey Hatcher
Adapted from stories of Edgar Allan Poe
Directed by Greg Leaming
FSU/Asolo Conservatory in the Historic Asolo Theatre
Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bayshore Rd., Sarasota
FSU Center Box Office, 941-351-8000, Oct. 31-Nov. 18, '07
Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker
Shattering darkness, a spotlit Woman in white begins questioning. She's found shelter from woods in a 19th century house's drawing room with many doors. Light brings out of one, Usher (crunched-up, pale Steven O'Brien), a frightened host. Soon the other doors open to let out black-clad, bedraggled women, "desperate to achieve...a place." Enter Inspector Dupin (Jason Peck, never to waive his accent or authority), befuddled about murders on the rue Morgue. Seemingly mad characters tell their stories. Answers to his and the beautiful (mysterious Elizabeth Ahrens') Woman's wonderings pop up, like corpses hanging from chimneys, a huge eye on a man's fat face, closets sheltering killer cats ,and a purloined letter, as well as floor boards concealing a noisy pounding heart. The audience is teased to identify "seven of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous stories woven into a gloriously gothic nightmare of an evening." Good Halloween fare. Silly fun at first. Overwrought and underwhelming at last.
Macabre scenic and lighting effects, thanks to Jim Florek, alleviate writer Jeffrey Hatcher's heavy-handed humor. This playwright seems in his choice of work increasingly to value quantity over quality, and his success with a quirky approach to Turn of the Screw seems to have influenced his forays into adaptation. Compensating for mediocrity here, Greg Leaming wisely guides his actors to present melodramatic characters as if believable but in a variety of styles. DeMario McGrew, for example, carries his long Aristo-Cat pronouncements off with finely polished sophistication and enunciation. Elizabeth Ahrens sustains the Woman's sense of mystery throughout. Heather Kelley is equally funny and fearful as the long-eared feline Pluto. Into dead Marie Roget and two other women Michelle Trachtenberg puts suggestive life, as does Kevin O'Callaghan into Heart. Doubling Brent Bateman's big-eyed Accent Actor is followed by his different Old Man and Minister. David Yearta does triple duty too. For a show-stopper, Dolph Paulsen covers William Wilson's entire narrative in one hurried, almost breathless shot.
Though suitable and period-conscious, David Covach's costumes never detract from what the actors do in them. Another plus is Rick Cannon's technical direction. Without FSU/Asolo Conservatory's ensemble approach to dramatizing Poe, Hatcher might be accused, though, of literary murder.
Stage Manager: Sarah Gleissner. One act, of 1 hr., l5 mins.