BWW Review: POE'S LAST STANZA Impresses at The Grand
Opening Disclaimer: This marks my third time reviewing POE'S LAST STANZA, and I have been personally acquainted with playwright/director CJ Crowe for a couple of decades. I like Poe, I like live theatre, dinner theatre isn't my favorite, I prefer farce to drama, straight plays to musicals and I've never seen Phantom, Les Mis or Cats. If you'd like to see what I've said before about POE'S LAST STANZA, here's my review from the show's debut,
and here is the one from its encore.
As most Baltimore theatregoers know, while venue may not be everything, it certainly is a major thing. A show presented at Spotlighter's is quite a different creature from one at the Hippodrome, and different still from Glass Mind Theatre at Gallery 788. So here again is POE'S LAST STANZA, at yet another food-inclusive venue, Baltimore's Grand, on Charles Street downtown, near the corner of Saratoga Street.
The Grand, formerly The Grand Historic Venue, is a sight to behold. To begin with, there is something special about being ushered into the building by a white-gloved doorman, whether his top hat fits properly or not. The venue, built 1867 -1869 as the Grand Lodge of Maryland's Freemasons, had several major renovations under their care after fires damaged the property. The Freemasons maintained The Grand as their Lodge through the mid 1990s, when a new Grand Lodge in Cockeysville was completed. The building was purchased by Tremont, while the city was in the process of condemning the property to make way for a parking garage. Fortunately, the City and the Tremont came to an agreement which saved the property while allowing for a parking garage to be built between the Tremont (now Embassy Suites) and The Grand.
This parking lot is accessible from Saratoga Street, modestly priced and Escherian in nature. Under no circumstances walk your friend to her car and allow her to drive you to yours, because you can't get there. I had to go to the elevators and start over.
We enter the room, which is lushly appointed and warmly lit. Each place setting is graced by a single rose across the charger plate. After we've been seated, the servers bring each of us of legal drinking age a balloon of cognac, a nod to the Poe Toaster's tradition of leaving roses and cognac at the poet's grave each year on Poe's birthday, a tradition which lasted 60 years from 1949 to 2009. Despite much speculation, the identity of the Poe Toaster remains a mystery, even now. I suspect Baltimore folk prefer that.
The highly-scripted (yet still interactive) show was conceived on spec about a year ago, and presented by a theatre company other than Do Or Die for Halloween 2014, revived by Do Or Die for a video shoot on Poe's birthday 2015 (and sold out immediately, eventually selling out a total of 4 shows) and presented now at two separate venues for the dining enjoyment of eagar Edgarains in the Baltimore region.
Dinner begins with a delicately flavoured Poe-tato soup and colourful green salad. When the main course of turkey breast is delivered, it exceeds my expectations most elegantly. The beautiful china plate (not Wedgewood, but Lenox, doing a nice job of suggesting it) is adorned with several thick slices of juicy turkey breast, asparagus which is in no way limp or soggy and multi-hued roasted potatoes. The tapioca pudding is served warm, a novelty to me as I've only ever had it chilled.
When Edgar Allen Poe enters the room, post-desert, he is belligerent. His churlishness is tempered by the scolding admonishments of the maid who has been charged with his care and service for the evening. If the prior sentences were somewhat obscure due to vocabularic loftiness, be advised that the show is written in Poe's language of the day. It's not Shakespeare, but it certainly isn't Mamet. The actors, Ashlyn Thompson and John Kelso, returning in their previous roles of Barmaid and Baltimore's Bard, make the language accessible; still, more than a modicum of attentiveness is required for maximum comprehension.
The show is presented in two acts and features Poe's works, quotations, foibles, proclivities and unhinged outbursts. Kelso and Thompson as Poe and the Barmaid confidently carry the audience through a gamut of emotions while bringing Baltimore's Bard to vibrant, flawed, beautiful human life.
Though Do Or Die Productions is generally known for comedic improvisational murder mystery, Do Or Die's owner/director/writer CJ Crowe demonstrates eloquently that she's no one-trick pony with POE'S LAST STANZA. If you've ever felt that you'd like to sit down to have drinks with Edgar Allan Poe, please treat yourself to this show, as you'll be doing just that.
POE'S LAST STANZA appears at The Grand http://www.thegrandbaltimore.com/poes-last-stand.html on October 23, 24th and 30th. Check-in and cocktails begin at 6:30 pm. Dinner is served at 7, with the show following. For tickets, call Do Or Die's box office at (443) 422-3810 or reserve online https://www.showtix4u.com/boxoffice.php?submit=Search+for+Events&begin=1542968¤t_client=1106011208201130 ,
as no tickets are sold at the door. See Do Or Die's website http://doordiemystery.com/poes-last-stanza/ for additional information.
Photo Credit: Cybele Pomeroy