BWW Review: John Kevin Jones Bring Exquisite Chill To KILLING AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE
For the past several years, he and director Dr. Rhonda Dodd of Summoners Ensemble Theatre have been significantly adding to the holiday spirit of the historic building with a delightful recreation of Charles Dickens' public readings of "A Christmas Carol." But last year they added a new visitor for the autumn weeks, paying tribute to the master of the macabre with KILLING AN EVENING WITH Edgar Allan Poe, a terrific Halloween treat, returning in an expanded version.
The Greek Revival parlor of the city's only 19th century family home preserved virtually intact with original furnishings and personal belongings provides a perfect setting for the literary evening, particularly because, as our host points out, Poe did not live far from the residence of the well-off Tredwell family and it's quite possible they may have hired the now-celebrated scribe, financially struggling at the time, for a private performance.
For this occasion, though, the parlor is dressed for mourning, draped in black with a coffin (closed) on display.
Poe was paid $10 for his classic short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," which is the first selection of the evening. Surrounded on three sides by audience members, the actor works from memory, taking on an eccentrically maddening voice and manner as the unnamed narrator, explaining why his murder of an old man with a "vulture eye" was justified and describing the unusual punishment he pays for his actions.
In "The Cask of Amontillado," Jones is the elegant wine aficionado Montresor, who plots revenge for an insulting slight by another connoisseur with an invitation to his dark and damp wine cellar for a taste of a rare vintage amontillado.
Tension fills the air as Jones describes the race against time a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition must win in order to survive his torturous punishment in "The Pit and the Pendulum," a classic that has been added for this year.
It's fun to see the actor occasionally assuming the kind of elevated performance style that thrilled stage audiences in Poe's day, but the intimacy of the Merchant's House parlor also allows for spine-tingling moments of subtlety, with Jones' rich voice embracing the storyteller's vivid descriptions.
The final piece provides a change of pace. "The Raven," one of the most famous of all American poems, is recited in a more traditional salon manner, with Jones exquisitely portraying the distraught lover whose mourning for his beloved Lenore is interrupted by a visit from a mysterious and curiously-mannered bird.
Contrasting with his ghoulish portrayals in previous selections, "The Raven" allows Jones to offer a touching depiction of sorrowful heartbreak. It's a lovely finish to an exceptional presentation.