An excerpt from my DanceJournal article about physical theater & dance elements prominent in two LiveArtsFest plays~
At the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Thaddeus Phillips’ Red-Eye To Havre de Grace’ uses every inch of the Roberts stage to create the last days of Edgar Allen Poe while he is on tour performing The Raven along the northeastern corridor of Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Phillips describes the show as images “of Poe on trains in 1849 is wonderfully mysterious, and this musical follows Poe’s final journey, which had many crazy details, many rife with metaphor. “
As Poe, Ean Sheeny, reflects the author’s drug and alcohol use and Phillips has him in constant motion at times as animated as a silent film actor. He is reminiscent of silent film stars in many highly stylized moments of macabre physical comedy. But Sheeny is masterful in micro-acting moves as well, that build the harrowing psychological and surreal world of Poe. Sheeny gives a tour de force physical and vocal performance.
Phillips’ devises a constantly mutating set design with the set changes by the actors worked into the narrative to keep everything off kilter. The sense of unsettling travel and interior menace builds as Poe becomes more and more desperately escaping mental and emotional walls closing in. On Poe’s arrival at a Hotel in Philadelphia Poe is taken through the building’s corridors as they constructed and maneuvered in real time by the actors.
The play is laces together Poe’s biography and literature, dramatizing his poems ‘Beneath the Floorboards,‘ Tincture of Opium,‘ ‘Die Together,‘ ’Annabel Lee,’ among others. The poems are scored to original music by David Wilhelm and sung by bass baritone Jeremy Wilhelm. There are also disquieting musical interludes on the prepared pianos that underscore many of Phillips’ pure movement passages of Poe traveling in and out of reality.
The stylized movement in the play is by choreographer Sophie Bortolussi, who portrays Poe’s consumptive wife Virginia, who appears and vanishes, in several sleights of body all over the stage. She comes out of crawl spaces, walks blindly backward off tables, scales down sheets from a suspended sick bed. Bortolussi is the macabre and a floaty spectral, covering Poe when he is passed out on a bender, or a threatening presence, trying to pull him down an imagined void. The show’s most stunning sequence is Bortolussi’s stilt tango in the show’s denouement as grotesquely beautiful and disturbing as anything in Poe‘s imagination.
Red-Eye To Havre de Grace photos from Philadelphia Live Arts web site. No credit provided.