I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
August 12, 2011
We see the star of Dawson Nichols's I Might Be Edgar Allen Poe well before he sees us—as the lights come up, he is lying on the floor, rapturously reciting one of Poe’s poems. Actually, "reciting" isn’t quite the word. He is reveling in it; joyfully using Poe’s words to declare himself to the world: "From childhood's hour I have not been / As others were; I have not seen / As others saw…" When the poem finishes, he spots us, startled, and begins his story.
That opening moment is the play in a nutshell. Our hero (unnamed, played by Craig Mathers) is an inmate in a mental hospital, someone with a deeply troubled past he is unwilling to face, and cannot find the words to speak about, until he finds a book of Poe’s work. He is so struck by the language, the mood, and the perspective of Poe—and how well it mirrors his own—that he is soon obsessed by the writer, believing himself to be Poe’s reincarnation. His doctors are concerned, but clueless—they mistake one of Poe’s love letters they find him carrying for something he wrote; they ask him if he liked "The Raven" because he himself is afraid of birds, they urge him to read Dr. Seuss instead. Things finally come to a head when he agrees to recite a short and lighthearted poem at a "talent show" for the patients, but instead recites "The Tell-Tale Heart" and is dragged off for some emergency drug therapy, which finally enables him to revisit the event which triggered his incarceration.
The recitation is the biggest complaint I had about the work—that there was a little too much Poe. Mathers does recite "The Tell-Tale Heart" for us in its entirety; as well as the whole of "The Raven," and the whole of the love letter of Poe’s. But what I wanted to see was a bit more about why our patient was so drawn to Poe—what it was he saw in childhood’s hour that was not as others saw. Nichols’s script does give us a couple of tantalizing glimpses of our patient’s childhood, and brings Mathers to finally speak about the incident that triggered his hospital stay; but I still wanted to know a bit more about our character, what made him tick, even just his name. Mathers does a fine job with "The Tell-Tale Heart," but he is equally fine when the patient speaks "in his own words"; I wanted to hear a bit less Poe and more patient.