Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review ‘Poe Afterlife Radio Show’ engages in Sheboygan

Critic At Large

Sheboygan Theatre Company Studio Players

Production poster.

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (WFRV) – Quoth the Raven “Nevermore”?

Well, not nevermore but just once more to catch a captivating take on the stuff of Edgar Allan Poe.

Studio Players, the dark arm of Sheboygan Theatre Company, has created an elaborate production for “The Edgar Allan Poe Afterlife Radio Show,” which has more to it than the term “radio show” implies.

There are sound effects.

Nobody holds a script, though. Acting is from memory.

The players are not dressed in street clothes. They dress as if at the endpoint time of Edgar Allan Poe – 1849. Some of the dresses of women are catchy, like a jacket-type top with buttons on the front and a V-flair at the bottom front.

The central guy, Edgar Allan Poe, is portrayed by man who has a strong resemblance in body and facial features to the writer of dark and dreary. It’s like Poe is there. David Quinn adds attitude – Poe’s jaundice and loft.

David Quinn/Poe arrives by hydraulic lift for a nifty grand entrance, with a haughty air.

Writers Patrick Greene and Jason Pizzarello cleverly enhance the theatricality beyond just Poe speaking to the audience. Poe’s cat is present. Portrayed purrfectly by Duncan Doherty, the cat isn’t especially swift and adds off-the-wall questions and observations. The give-and-take between Poe and the cat is comical. And the smartest thing the cat does is take off and hide when things get scary.

The two sit at a tombstone for Lenore, who figures in the poem “The Raven.”

An inside joke is another tombstone – Addams – for Charles Addams, another master of the macabre.

Four pieces Poe wrote are enacted, embellished with foley fun by Mike Clawson, a master of deadpan, too.

All have zest:

+ “Cask of Amontillado” with Aaron Covey as the baddie with a taste for too much wine and Valerie Hoffman as a woman with a thirst for vengeance.

+ “Fall of the House of Usher” with Kimberli Koeppen visiting a house falling apart in more ways than one, notably in the attic of a man (Aaron Covey) and his sister (Kerri Rank).

+ “The Raven” with Kerri Rank expertly, colorfully, dramatically and wonderfully reciting/enacting the famous poem that tumbles along on rhyme leading to haunting storytelling with punchline after punchline. Terrific.

+ “The Tell-Tale Heart” with Erin Koeppen as a woman driven to snuff out a maddening man with a “vulture eye” and stuffing her deed beneath floorboards to be forever silenced… until… her imagination takes over.

Two commercials are spliced in. They’re quite tongue in cheek.

And then comes the finale – more inventive colorings by Patrick Greene and Jason Pizzarello. David Quinn and Duncan Doherty enact the demise of Poe and his cat. The way the cat tells it, he had a role in Poe being nevermore. The bit is darkly humorous.

Very much went into the making of this production, and it’s impressive in its details. Director Sam Jessup and collaborators create ways of using the special Horace Mann Middle School amphitheater, plus the players leap into Poe’s material and his way for making words fit together just so – often eerily so.

***

Creative: From works of Edgar Allan Poe: playwrights – Patrick Greene and Jason Pizzarello; director – Sam Jessup; production stage manager – Andrea Covey; assistant stage manager – Kim Koeppen; scenic designer – Nan Gibson; lighting designer – Lisa Stewart; sound designer – Lee Schneider; properties crew chief – Nan Gibson; master painter – Nan Gibson; master carpenter – Phil Zimmermann; costume designer – Jamie Wynveen; hair/make-up designer – Ariel Ludlum

Cast:

Edgar Allan Poe – David Quinn

The Cat/Rob/Steak – Duncan Doherty

Announcer/foley artist/Bob/Husband – Mike Clawson

Montressor/Officer – Valerie Hoffman

Fortunato/Roderick Usher – Aaron Covey

Devin/Deb/Receptionist – Kimberli Koeppen

Madeline Usher/Miss Delores Terious – Kerri Rank

Taylor – Erin Koeppen

Wife – Andrea Covey

Running time: One hour, 50 minutes

Remaining performance: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29

Note: Masks are highly recommended for COVID-19 reasons.

Info: stcshows.org

***

THE VENUE: The 870-seat Leslie W. Johnson Theatre in Horace Mann Middle School is a one-of-a-kind theater space for Northeastern Wisconsin. Its layout creates special demands that can lead to rewards in unique theatergoing. The spacious facility is in the shape of an amphitheater with steep stairways. The seats are red. The ceiling is high. The front row of seats is on the performance level, which is a half circle. A proscenium (flat front) stage area extends across the rear line of the half circle. The school was built in 1970. The aura of the lobby and theater combined is that of a community gathering place.

THE PEOPLE: Leslie W. Johnson was a Sheboygan superintendent of schools. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was a leader in the development of public education in the United States, including the teaching of teachers.

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