Review: POE'S LAST STANZA at Perry's in Odenton Is Full of Wit, Poetry and Humor

Two Actors And A Writer Create A Magical Interactive Evening

By: Nov. 13, 2023

You might wonder how an evening with Edgar Allan Poe and an unnamed Barmaid would be funny, accessible and an all around great evening in Odenton, Maryland, and I would submit, in the spirit of Poe himself, that there is a lovely dark magic at work here. The wizarding workshop is called Do Or Die Productions, its owner/ director/ writer, CJ Crowe, is the magician, and her brainchild, Poe’s Last Stanza is the spell. The transformative magic of live theater, the unifying magic of collective imagination, and the surprising magic of audience-driven improvisation are the main ingredients of Crowe’s figurative cauldron of bewitching brew.

Nine years ago, CJ Crowe, owner, director and main writer for Do Or Die Productions, the beloved Glen Burnie- based interactive comedy murder mystery company, wrote a show about Edgar Allan Poe, to be produced in a historic pub in Annapolis. After a one-weekend run in October, it graced the now-defunct Sunset Restaurant in November, ostensibly for one show only, but it promptly sold out, added two more performances, then ran again to more sell-out audiences for Poe’s birthday in January of 2015. 

Do Or Die Productions has found a new home, however: Perry’s Restaurant, in the Gambrills area, just a few miles South of BWI airport. It’s an unassuming place, with a strong community presence, and a designated banquet space. It’s not a huge room, so when arranged cleverly it can be almost cozy, an important thing when characters refuse to exist behind a fourth wall. They instead move among tables to directly address audience members who are, on this occasion, identified as guests of the tavern where the inventor of the Gothic novel, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe himself, has spent quite some time today, to the annoyance of the Barmaid who furiously polishes blunt silverware while exchanging knife-sharp repartee with Mr. Poe. 

Perry’s Restaurant is just a bit East of Route 170, a road which changes names every five miles or so whether it needs to or not, on Annapolis Road in Odenton proper. Crowe and Kristos, the owner of Perry’s, have partnered to bring murder mystery to Odenton (after the demise of both Hellas and Sunset restaurants, the two most recent homes to Do Or Die Productions) and twice a month, members of the public can enjoy a comic murder mystery show in which their level of participation is entirely discretionary. The shows are in the designated Banquet room, which provides some protection from bar and restaurant hubbub. It also provides intimacy, enough to permit an astonishing feat of time travel. With a few small, mobile set pieces, a screen and a handful of props, the three creators of Poe’s Last Stanza transport us to Poe’s world without us leaving our seats. 

The event is both dinner and show. Seating tables vary in size, and you might be with just your party, or with fellow enthusiasts of Poe’s spooky charm. I order meatloaf, which is a bit salty, but a nice texture, served with gravy–covered mashed potatoes. The gravy is unoffensive. No other vegetable is provided, or offered. Although salads and soft drinks are listed as being included in the prix fixe meal, (alcoholic beverages are available, for market prices), none are delivered. I notice most other diners also lack beverages unless they are alcoholic. My table companions seem pleased with their bar selections, and I ask about their meal choices. The gentleman chose the crab cake sandwich, which he didn’t criticize, served on a brioche roll, a choice he supported, and his wife chose, as I did, the meatloaf. 

The two of them have attended a performance of Poe’s Last Stanza each year following the show’s inception. “There’s always something I didn’t notice the last time,” Mrs. Tablemate says of seeing the show every year.  They’re local to the area, say that Perry’s has above average food, and that they’re glad that Do Or Die will be here frequently. Dessert is delivered; I enjoy my pumpkin roll, and the coffee is also quite good, when it arrives.

Following a 7:50 invitation to visit the restrooms, the show begins at 8 PM. Much of what transpires seems as if the characters are speaking on their own, without scripted lines, and that is completely as designed by CJ Crowe. She wrote every specific line of the show, which the actors memorized, rehearsed and honed, scene by scene, line by line, word by word. However, because there are well-placed interactive moments within the context of the scripted show, and the audience is a live entity, during these interactions, the actors create their own lines, in-character, in period, and in the moment. 

Authentic looking costuming goes a long way to supporting the time- travel illusion of the evening, and the props the performers handle are believably period-evocative as well. Performing as the Barmaid is Erin Tarpley, a veteran actor in both traditional and interactive theater, who is self-assured, charming and physically expressive. The audience is enchanted with her from the moment she arrives onstage. 

As Baltimore’s Bard, Edgar Allan Poe, Jose de la Mar is rumpled, disorganized, combative, humorous, and mercurial. The audience doesn’t love him quite as much, but they are excused: de la Mar plays Poe as he is reputed to have been in life- overly fond of alcohol and not, by nature, easy company in any mood. He is, however, both convincing and engaging. Whether he’s railing at an audience member for a perceived slight, reciting his most famous and beloved poems or sparring with the Barmaid, he is riveting. 

The chemistry between the two performers is palpable, and every moment is filled with fascinating nuance. Though Poe's Last Stanza is not, inherently, a comedy, there is a great deal of funny embedded in the show, and both actors understand not only the power of laughter, but also its proper timing. The climactic reveal is full of tension and mystery, rather than high dramatic action, and the audience seems to hold its collective breath for the final ten minutes of the show. At the conclusion, I am not the only audience member who is emotionally wrung out by the intensity. The burst of enthusiastic applause is a welcome outlet for folk who have been figuratively- or literally- on the edge of their seats. Afterwards, the actors graciously greet audience members before their final farewells. 

Running time is 90 minutes, including one fifteen-minute intermission.

Poe’s Last Stanza at plays through October 28, 2023 at Perry’s Restaurant- 1210 Annapolis Road, Gambrills Maryland- 410-674-4000; $74.50 for dinner and show; free parking is available all around the building.  

Photo: Erin Tarpley as Barmaid and Jose de la Mar as Edgar Allan Poe

Photo Credit: Amanda Gunther

The next public performance at Perry’s returns to Do Or Die’s trademark comic whodunnint murder mystery. It’s Murder, Pilgrim plays on November 13th and November 20th.

December 4th, 11th and 18th at Perry’s offer Murder on 34th Street, a brand-new show written for the 2023 holiday season by CJ Crowe. Visit Do Or Die’s website to purchase tickets.

Perry’s has an Entertainment tab, but Do Or Die Mysteries isn’t represented, just Karaoke, Trivia, Bingo and drink specials. There’s no mention of public shows. On Perry’s Facebook page, also there’s no mention of interactive comedy mystery. However, Do Or Die’s website is clear and easy to navigate. Purchase tickets online or call the box office at 443-422-3810 to order over the phone from a live human.

Final Factoid: The address of Perry’s Restaurant is listed as Gambrills, but as I drove South from BWI on Route 170, I certainly passed a sign welcoming me to Odenton. 

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