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BWW Review: POE RE-DERANGED at The Eagle Theatre in Poe-sitively Spooky

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A show that audiences will be RAVEN about!

BWW Review: POE RE-DERANGED at The Eagle Theatre in Poe-sitively Spooky

"Have you ever heard of theatre driving people insane?"

It was a dark and stormy night when I had the opportunity to listen to The Eagle Theatre's audio production of Pete Gambino's Poe Re-Deranged. Nothing set the mood for a transition into this frightening fall season more than Gambino's gruesome allegory and Chris Miller's choice of spooktacular soundscape for the original radio play.

Gambino's script is a rearrangement (or re-derangement) of Poe's masterpieces. The play begins with an homage to Poe's timely The Masque of the Red Death and Pat DeFusco as the narrator sets the scene. Propsero, a wealthy lawyer, hosts a masquerade for the city's elite, who much like the audience listening, have been secluded for six months. The way the characters wear eye masks for the ball hauntingly echoes how we all must wear face masks now in the face of an equally grim pandemic. Faced with the uncertainty of the situation outside, Prospero controls his microcosm of metropolitans. Prospero and his guests make fun of the lame servant Hop Frog and Gambino's play becomes a series of stories Propsero and his guests play out to scare the servant. The stories the guests tell are some of Poe's most famous works including The Cask of Amontillado, Anabelle Lee, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Raven, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat and more.

When theatres began closing their doors (some of them indefinitely) during the initial months of the coronavirus outbreak, performing art organizations were forced to think outside of the "black box". The survival of the theatre industry now depends on not only socially-distant performance that follows CDC guidelines, but the ingenuity and skill of theatre artists. The days of in-person proscenium-arch theatre are on pause, and many companies are moving to virtual platforms.

Though Gambino, a part-time lecturer at Rutgers Camden and drama producer at Cherry Hill High School East, originally wrote Poe Re-Deranged for his high school students almost four years ago, Miller worked with the playwright to translate the show from a visual to aural experience. Poe Re-Deranged is almost like an audiobook, but still a totally theatrical experience. Instead of flats and scrims, Miller uses a soundscape of both musical underscoring and eclectic effects as the play's setting. He reveals in a behind the scenes podcast conversation with the playwright that some of the sounds are subterfuge. For example, the sound effect of the horse drawn carriage is actually wooden gears with added horse snorts. In this podcast Gambino and Miller also discuss how the script was adapted to compensate for the lack of visuals. And Miller explores the liberties he took with post-production edits (one of my favorites including some hair-raising vocal effects on the actor's voices in their rendition of Annabelle Lee and the "surround-sound" stereo quality to the sounds in The Pit and the Pendulum).

Eagle Theatre Artistic Director, and Poe Re-Deranged director Chris Miller acknowledges the importance of digital performance. He says, "In the time of COVID, theaters have had to pivot. The Eagle Theatre wanted to find a way that we could present a theatrical experience that was socially distant with the production value and quality our patrons are used to. As we have always worked on re-imagining regional theater, we now have re-imagined the Audio Book. Instead of the traditional narrator reading a book, we have a fully produced, performed audio experience that ties in music, sound effects and the talented actors we have had the honor of working with."

Miller reveals that this is the first of several radio plays The Eagle will produce.

The Eagle's cast of Poe Re-Deranged features performances by Pat DeFusco, John Jackowski, Ang Bey, Taylor Mitchell, Craig Hutchings, Edwin Santiago, Amanda Boeckle, Katherine Perry, Kahil Wyatt, and Chris Miller. All of the actors play a variety of roles but change their voices according to the story they are telling.

The Eagle Theatre's Poe Re-Deranged is completely different from the theatre's usual repertoire and feels modern though Poe passed in 1847. The Eagle is always pushing the boundaries of how audiences experience performing arts, and Poe Re-Deranged is a nice addition to their mission. The audio play is professional, engaging, creative and well-put together while Gambino's script is well-written and has fantastic pacing. It is also appropriate for The Eagle to produce Gambino's show when the audience, much like the characters in the play, are quarantining and experiencing the effects of a pandemic. In the story, the characters relate tales as a means to escape the stress and reality of the Red Death, much like how audiences in modern times are turning to the performing arts for entertainment and distraction.

I am personally a huge Poe fan. Poe's work has had a huge impact on initiating my career as a writer. Gambino's script stays true to the spirit of Poe, and the playwright orchestrates a complex yet seamless compilation of Poe's best works that will not only speak to Poe aficionados, but horror genre lovers as well. Gambino's "comPOEnations" include both familiar and lesser-known Poe works that, if you know Poe, will absolutely allow you to pick up on dramaturgical nuances in the script. And for those who may not know the gothic writer's works as well, there are still scares to awaken the dead! You do not need to be familiar with Poe's work to appreciate this terrifying treasure.

The production is perfect to listen to in preparation for Halloween, especially in the dead of night. I found it best to listen to the show with headphones.

Poe Re-Deranged is sure to be a show audiences will be RAVEN about!

Poe Re-Deranged is coming soon to iBooks, Audible & Google Audio Books. For more information, visit https://www.eagletheatre.org/.

To listen to The Eagle Theatre's podcast conversation between Miller and Gambino, visit click here.

Image Credit: Courtesy of The Eagle Theatre


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From This Author Amber Kusching