Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 8, 2014


Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA
through October 26, 2014
by Shera Cohen

The set is numerous shades of brown with a smattering of black. The rustic interior of a tavern sits in the center of ceiling-to-floor paper panels, each with faded handwriting. This is not a friendly place which audience members step into, not only in the shroud of dark scenery but in the company of its inhabitants. Add macabre music and thunder claps and “Poe” is off to a powerful start.

Director/playwright Eric Hill’s imagination has chronicled the final days in the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Indeed, Poe’s demise is as mysterious as was his life and writings. Hill has seamlessly meshed history with fiction and poetry with dialogue for his main character. Poe’s language is full of near-operatic arias, most taken from his own writing, held together by meaningful recitative.

While “Poe” is not a one-man play, it very well could be for several reasons, most importantly beginning with actor David Adkins’ portrayal of the tortured poet. Adkins, who has acted quite nicely, primarily in contemporary plays over the years at Berkshire Theatre, entrenches his mannerisms and psyche into the body and soul of the wreck of a man Poe has become. It is hard to imagine another actor donning the mantle of agony, hopelessness, and mystery balanced with beauty, love, and brilliance. Assuredly, bringing Poe to life and ultimately to death is far from an easy task. At times, Adkins superbly plays the friendly drunk. Yet, humor often shades hard truth, and in Poe’s case, the truth is too harsh to live with. Adkins personifies his Poe with feigned levity awash with harsh reality, so that “Poe’s” audience is decidedly uncomfortable to laugh or even smile. Hill achieves that dichotomy.

Yes, other actors appear onstage, but their actions and words do little to flesh out Poe’s character and/or link theirs with his in important ways. The play’s start serves as repartee solely as a prelude to Poe’s entrance. While Kate Maguire’s character’s recitation of “The Tale Heart” is effectively chilling, it might have served better as a preamble to the play or after-show reading.

“Poe” has a short run at Berkshire Theatre, so make a date with this master poet soon.