For Nevermore: An Evening With Edgar Allen Poe, the renowned author's infamous "imp of the perverse" was unleashed upon a sold-out house on official opening at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles, CA. Audience members included bona fide genre icons, diehard Poe and Combs fans, as well as complete newbies. Most seemed to be in utter thrall and awe as the one-man show played out over 90 nonstop minutes.
Although it may appear the idea for this very intimate, sparse and organic stage play began with the 2007 Masters of Horror series episode ("The Black Cat," also starring Combs as Poe, directed by Stuart Gordon, and written by Dennis Paoli), Combs has actually had an acute interest in the character for many years. His physicality is picture perfect for the role (with a teeny bit of augmentation), as is the accent he affects with ease. His simply tailored black and white suit with a very literary long-coat complete the illusion.
The stage set is quite sparse — there's a rug on the floor, a bookstand, and a wooden chair with a small table beside it to hold a few slim volumes and a lit candle. The rest is all Combs (and some excellent lighting effects, including the natural glow of a single, tiny flame). The actor begins as if addressing an 1848 audience who has come to hear him read from his published works — and he does — but the group of listeners wind up also witnessing the baring of a troubled, tortured, and oftentimes humorous soul.
The humor is what caught me the most by surprise in Nevermore. Most horror or literary fans know Poe for his tales of woe, so to hear Combs successfully reading The Tell-Tale Heart as a warped, frantic comedy was an absolute delight. Of course, the performance often dips into the maudlin (especially as Poe begins to the refer to his handy pocket flask), the romantic, and the tragic facets of the man's psyche. Given its spartan presentation, Nevermore delivers.
However… unless you are an uber-fan of Poe and/or Combs, I am not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend that theater-neophytes (raises hand — I've only been to a handful of stage productions myself) run to see it because at 90 minutes the material does wear pretty thin at times. Had some of the readings been pared, as well as the "Sarah" subplot either cut or toned down, I would have liked it a lot better. (Also it is absolutely freezing to the point of distraction in the theater, which may lessen your enjoyment — so if you do go, bring a jacket.)
I think, aside from the outrageously merry and fresh take on The Telltale Heart, shorter snippets from the Poe's other works would have sufficed; and although I know the Sarah Whitman story is true, I felt the asides to her were too diverting.
That said, for aficionados of the darker genres it's remarkable to witness an even further exploration of the longstanding working relationships between Combs, Gordon, and Paoli. The show will hopefully be on the East Coast this fall. Right now in L.A., it is running to Sunday, August 2nd. For more information, and to buy tickets (only $10), click on over to www.SteveAllenTheater.com
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson