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Haunted Poe: Edgar Allen Poe by Brat Productions


featuring Katie Scheidt, Dave Johnson as Edgar Allen Poe, and Meredith Boring, photo credit Gabriel Bienczycki

Take an award-winning, experimental theatre company, give them some spooky literary classics and a 10,000 square-foot warehouse space, and you’re sure to get something interesting. In this case, Haunted Poe.

      With its latest genre-bending show, Brat Productions has not only raised Edgar Allen Poe from the dead (five different incarnations, if you count the puppet and the voiceover versions), they’ve also reinvented the haunted house. Sure, they’ve got creepy crawlies (live cockroaches, anyone?), psychopathic dudes wielding weapons, and even the occasional specter shouting “boo!” in your face. And of course, you’ll wind through dark, narrow passageways and stand way too close to complete strangers. But unlike the traditional Halloween attractions, Haunted Poe takes its terror straight from the most well-known works of Poe: “The Raven,” “The Tell-tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and more.

      The performance opens with a morbid and hilarious puppet show overview of Poe’s life, complete with tragic puppet death and gruesome puppet murder. Immediately you understand that this is going to be unlike any other haunted house. For about 45 minutes you move through a maze of cramped corridors and rooms, meeting characters and scenes from Poe’s eeriest stories. In the Cellar, the murderous Black Cat Husband (played by Bruce Graham) gets a little too close for comfort, considering he’s carrying an ax and seems a little unsteady on his feet! In the Graveyard, you’re serenaded by Poe’s favorite ladies—Morella (Kim Carson and Casey Cloonan), Berenice (Jess Conda), Ligeia (Claire Lenahan), and of course Annabel Lee (Sarah Robinson). You even get to spend a few tight minutes in Poe’s library, where the Gothic writer’s ghost (played by Nate Holt) continues to be obsessed by that ubiquitous raven and a very spooky Greek goddess (Adrienne Hertler).

    featuring Kim Carson as Morella, photo credit Karl Seifert  In most of the rooms, the audience essentially walks onto the stage. Forget front row seats, here the actors slither and slink around and among the audience. They sing to you, grab at objects on the walls you’re leaning against, and even hide behind you if the need arises. This is how Haunted Poe is really spectacular. These actors aren’t just working with each other, they are working with the unpredictable, ever-changing audience – and keeping in character, adjusting their choreography, and responding (at least a little) to the needs of each particular group.

      The other really incredible aspect of Haunted Poe is the design: sets, lighting, sound, all of it works together to support and sustain the Poe’s creepiness. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the actors are almost upstaged by the incredible “stage” itself. The experienced and awarding-winning design team – including Brad Helm (scenic design), John Hoey (lighting design), Michael Kiley (original music and sound design), and Alisa Sickora Kleckner (costumes, masks, puppets, make up and wig design) – transport the audience from a graveyard, to a ballroom, to a train car. The sets are so expertly erected that you really feel like you’re in those places, and you’re more than a little disoriented when you enter the next equally authentic space. At the end of my 45 minutes in Haunted Poe, I felt like I’d traveled through time and space. And yet, eerie echo of other rooms can be heard throughout the experience, thereby blurring the space-time continuum. You are in one room at a time, but there are moments when you feel some rooms coming back to you, calling after you, not letting you go – an effect that seems perfectly suited to Poe’s obsessive and haunting work.

   eaturing, Dave Johnson as Edgar Allen Poe, photo credit Gabriel Bienczycki   As with any ambitious work, Haunted Poe is not without its flaws. My biggest criticism of this production is its lack of context. Although the experience is entertaining enough on its on, I think audiences would better appreciate the amazing work that Brat did if they provided a program with more details and synopses of the works of Poe they culled from. I’ve got an MFA in poetry, and I didn’t recognize a lot of these allusions. But when I Googled the characters from the cast sheet, I suddenly understood costume decisions, scenes, and characters that I didn’t fully grasp during the performance. Either the creator’s took for granted the amount of Poe knowledge their audience would bring to the show, they didn’t care, or they didn’t think it would matter. My guess is the latter. And in a regular old haunted house, they would have been right; it doesn’t matter. But in theater it does. Unfortunately, without this extra information, Haunted Poe comes off a bit like an insider’s attraction.

      That said, Haunted Poe is a pretty incredible production that is worth checking out this Halloween. Even without encyclopedic knowledge like that which went into the show (after all, they did hire Philly’s preeminent Poe scholar), Haunted Poe will transport you deep into the writer’s disturbed psyche – sending chills down your spine and goosebumps up your arms.

      “[Edgar Allen Poe] brought beauty to the horrific, the terrible, and the grotesque,” says director Madi Distefano, Resident Artist and founder of Brat Productions. Likewise, Haunted Poe brings something beautiful and artful to the traditional Halloween horror show.

      Haunted Poe runs now through November 1. Tickets are $20 and $25. For more information, visit www.hauntedpoe.com or call 800-838-3006.





HauntedPoe_trio_lookdown.jpg: featuring Katie Scheidt, Dave Johnson as Edgar Allen Poe, and Meredith Boring, photo credit Gabriel Bienczycki

HauntedPoe_Poe_closeup.jpg: featuring, Dave Johnson as Edgar Allen Poe, photo credit Gabriel Bienczycki

HauntedPoe_Graveyard.jpgfeaturing Kim Carson as Morella, photo credit  Karl Seifert