An Evening With Eddy: Shadows of Poe
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
April 16, 2009
They say the devil is in the details. So it is with An Evening with Eddy: Shadows of Poe, Randall O'Neill's one-man show that seeks to discover and disclose the truth about Edgar Allen Poe. One of America's most notorious writers, who quite possibly coined the detective story, Randall O'Neill believes Poe, like most artists, was also completely misunderstood. So, for an evening, he inhabits the mind—and the madness, if you will—of the master of the macabre with surprising results, and invites us to do so as well.
O'Neill feels Poe was essentially at the wrong place at the wrong time, and often. He was orphaned along with his sister and adopted by a man who although his benefactor also had a nasty drinking problem. And things just got worse from there. Poe lost the love of his life, made a lot of ill-fated decisions, and eventually his biographer would turn on him and carve out the depiction the masses were only too eager to believe—that among other things Poe was arrogant and rude to anyone he deemed less intelligent than himself, which was most of the population.
Poe himself, as brought back to life by O'Neill, will tell you that depiction was not altogether untrue. O'Neill does his best to recreate the life of a man who still remains a mystery, one unsolvable compared to those about which he wrote. Sure, he presents Poe as snooty, with a tongue equally as sharp as his wit. O'Neill also thankfully finds the humor in Poe's travails, which provides an altogether different and more pleasing flavor to a show that could have been one note.
Or should I say one beat? O'Neill borrows from Poe's personal correspondence for his story but also from Poe's infamous tales. While O'Neill seems content to float on the surface of Poe's letters, he dives right in when reciting excerpts from Poe's stories. My personal favorite was his rendition of "The Tell-Tale Heart." During these segments the lights dim, the wry humor fades and from the shadows the real Poe emerges.
Poe is played with delight by O'Neill, who states in his bio that he returned to the stage after 13 years to finish the business of who Poe really was. He seems to genuinely enjoy the man whose world he and the production crew painstakingly recreate. The issue, I think, may be having too much material to choose from. The pace at the beginning of An Evening with Eddy is very quick, as O'Neill's excitement at sharing all the wonderful things he unearthed in his Poe research spurs him on; it isn't until "The Tell-Tale Heart" that O'Neill seems to find his footing.
When the actor in a piece is the writer too, he runs the risk of internalizing the character. Luckily, O'Neill avoids this by going out of his way to share with the audience. Director Karen Case Cook, who also serves as dramaturg, provides a good perspective that keeps the audience involved and further evens out the pace.
O'Neill and Cook are well supported by DJM Productions Technical Department's set design, which includes such whimsical but telling details as tassels on a lounge-y chair and a tea cup and saucer. These set the tone for arriving audience members as they find their seats among the blood-red drapery in the aptly named L'il Peach Theatre, which serves as Poe's lair. The space is a perfect choice for such an intimate presentation, and, draped with all that burgundy, really helps bring the audience into Poe's beautiful, dark world.
The lighting designer, Bekah Hernandez, has created a vivid, very specific lighting design that swells and falls alongside Poe's passions. That said, it seems a bit much for such a small theater. Such a design would dazzle on a larger stage but at times pulls us out of the carefully constructed intimacy. The results of the sound design were similar. While at times the sound is dead-on, such as the accompaniment to "The Tell-Tale Heart," at others it pulls focus.
The costuming choices, provided by DJM Productions are more successful. I'm no authority on period dressing or what Poe fancied, but almost everything, down to the facial hair, seems to fit. The seamstress in me wanted to put some darts in Poe's vest and my companion noticed some modern zippers on Poe's shoes, but other than that everything seemed spot-on. (Remember I said there was some devil in the details.)
All in all, An Evening with Eddy gives the audience what it wants—a glimpse into Edgar Allen Poe's far-from-ordinary life. This Evening may not get Poe a second date—indeed, O'Neill posits Poe had "bad luck" and used "poor judgment"—but it is his care of and commitment to his character that keeps me intrigued and interested to see more. Let's hope it is not another 13 years before we again hear from Randall O'Neill.