Poe-Dunk - A Matchbox Entertainment
nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 14, 2011
Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment is perfect for anyone who has ever had any interest in the life and works of the 19th century American author Edgar Allen Poe. In fact, after spending an hour with Kevin P. Hale and his tabletop matchbox puppetry, you may find that you now possess more knowledge about Poe than you ever really wanted to know. But Hale’s work is not a Poe excuse for theater, it is Poe-tent. Okay, so puns are a large part of the performance, but as we learn, puns were something Poe loved, so unabashed wordplay seems right at home here, and on that tiny little stage.
And what a stage! When we enter the space we are greeted by some dark suspenseful music—appropriate milieu for the master of suspense—as our attention is drawn to the stage area, upon a table where sits artfully arranged two tomes of the Works of Poe. Curiously, this still life is projected via closed circuit camera to a projection screen just right of the table. (This will prove important later, because the live projection is how we will be able to see into the tiny world.) Shortly, in comes Hale, who will be the sole performer; saying he thought he heard a rapping while he was napping—a nice opening reference to Poe delivered in Hale’s unassuming yet engaging manner that somehow immediately takes you in. Maybe it’s the pajamas he’s wearing or the Poe figure in his shirt pocket and his nerdy glasses; whatever, you like this guy immediately.
As Hale sits, he tells us that Poe was not just a poet and horror writer, but also a humorist, a newspaperman, a critic, a playwright, and even the father of the modern detective story. What then transpires in this fast-paced hour, is Hale’s impressionistic take on the life and works of Poe, using an extraordinary amount of match-sized puppet assistants and tiny cardboard sets.
All of these tiny props and puppets come out of secret drawers cleverly part of the aforementioned complete works tomes, with some of the “larger” set pieces stowed on an adjacent side table. Throughout the stories and anecdotes, one can’t help but marvel at the minute detail and the massive amount of work it must have taken to create the teensy weensy world. Though Hale must have done most of the “set building,” there is a credit in the program to a Props Artisan; so many kudos also to Edison M. Hale. Both Hales must have great eyesight or great magnifying glasses to give such attention to detail to the building of this tiny universe!
Kevin Hale is a charming guy who knows his stuff, yet relates in oblique ways that make it fun to learn. Is there universal appeal here? Well, the children I observed at the show seemed largely enthralled, though I imagine the wry humor and dry wit mostly play to the adults in the audience. However, I expect both young and old appreciate the more obvious puns and jokes, like the literalizing of the telling of “The Fall of the House of Usher”with a falling house. All told, there are thirty-five separate stories, poems and anecdotes that are touched upon in the hour you spend at Poe-Dunk. Pretty much, that’s something for everyone. It is a font of information, but don’t worry, this water is Poe-table.