The Washington, DC metro area is full of small risk taking theaters and one of the standouts in this crowd is Molotov Theatre Group. Self-proclaimed as "America's Second Oldest Theatre of Grand Guignol" this little in size, but big in execution theatre is probably the best in the Theatre of Grand Guignol niche.

Led by Artistic Director Alex Zavistovich, Molotov Theatre Group opened their seventh season in grand fashion presenting Eric Coble's fascinating Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe. I don't need to explain who America's grandfather of the macabre genre is, and his litany of works have been read or adapted many times in the 150 plus years since his death.

Coble interpolates a loose narrative of Poe "starring" in his own stories, arguably his four most famous ones: "The Raven", "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Pit and The Pendulum", and "The Tell-Tale Heart". Three of these pieces are short stories, with "The Raven" being the only poetically structured of the bunch, and for the most part, they are told verbatim.

In a note about Molotov from Artistic Director Zavistovich, he explains that the "Molotov Grand Guignol style is divided into three aspects...'Acting the Effect', 'Gore', and 'Brawling'". These three aspects were all very present in Director Mark Kamie's enchanted staging and concept. From the flow the actors moved choreographically to the use of the small and intimate space, Kamie's style was unique and mesmerizing.

The basic through-line is seeing Poe compose these pieces, and in all but one, Poe, himself becomes part of the story, with "Usher" being the lone piece that Poe is sidelined for. As for the actor embodying the Gothic dramatist is Molotov company member Elliott Kashner. Kashner does a wonderful job portraying the mad genius, and besides having the physical attributes of a young Poe, Kashner gives him a voice that is much more than a narrator, but one who is also a puppet master or "crypt keeper", given the genre.

While the ensemble of six do a serviceable job in the stories, the two standouts in the cast are Yoni Gray and Jen Bevan. Gray, who gets to utter Poe's most famous word, multiple times, as the eponymous Raven, is remarkable as the prisoner in "The Pit and The Pendulum." Since Poe's original story is a solo prisoner, Gray and Kashner together portray the lone prisoner with prodigious duality. Together the two of them moving largely in mirrored movements provided the best part of the successful evening.

In the final act of the night, Poe's most famous free form story is told with a "twist". The adept Jen Bevan, who already appeared in the story as Lenore with her dark brooding eyes and her silent gaze, she transformed herself, literally, as the victim in the final piece. Bevan's character in this act is such a large contrast from the beautiful Lenore earlier, that I was actually not sure that it was in fact the same actor.

Finally, the show's seventh star is Composer / Sound Designer Gregory Thomas Woolford Martin. Martin creates a haunting beautiful score that was perfectly timed and executed to the action on stage and create an eerie soundscape to accompany the play. His score was almost cinematic in its beauty, yet very "chamber-music" in its simplicity.

Overall Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe is an awesome and mysterious way to spend an evening in the tiny DC Arts Center in Adams Morgan.

Nightfall with Edgar Allan Poe runs through December 7, 2014 at DC Arts Center at 2438 18th St NW Washington, D.C. You can purchase tickets here, or at the door.

Photo credits: Kristin Jackman


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From This Author Keith Tittermary

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