I don’t know what to make of Red-Eye to Havre de Grace so perhaps it’s best I don’t try reading too deeply. Its theatrical vocabulary is neither that of play, play-with-music nor musical, but rather that of the most elusive and ambiguous category of all, music (not musical; music) theatre. A rumination on the last days of Edgar Allan Poe, it purports to dramatize what happened to him in the unknown, undocumented window of days during which he was on a train trip to New York, found himself mysteriously rerouted to Baltimore, was discovered in dire condition on the street and rushed to Washington hospital, where he died, delirious.
But it really doesn’t dramatize, it offers an impressionistic rumination with a specially designed prop (a table which, upended, becomes a versatile door), a ballet dancer to represent the young bride Poe lost to illness (Alessandra L. Larson), an actor to portray an increasingly incomprehensible Poe (Ean Sheehy), a musician to keep live underscoring going (David Wilhelm) and—the piece’s most inspired element—a fellow who gives every impression of being a genuine tour-guide and official of the Poe museum in Richmond (Jeremy Wilhelm) and when you least expect it, insinuates himself into the proceedings to provide vocals, additional instrumental accompaniment and incidental characters.
I can’t honestly say this kind of theatre isn’t really my métier, because music theatre is amorphous, each production creates its own rules and its own environment; and where minimalist repetition in one may seem tiresome, in another it can be invigorating. Context and treatment provide half the rationale for a response; your own sensibility provides the rest.
I can—I think, maybe—identify when a piece I don’t ultimately have an affinity for is nonetheless presented with the kind of distinction that makes it notable…and Red Eye to Havre de Grace seems to be one of those.
Beyond that, its ability to fulfill its initial stylistic and subject-matter promise seemed as elusive to me as the circumstances surrounding the death of its hero.
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