Live Arts review: 'Red-Eye to Havre de Grace'

By Howard Shapiro

In my imagination, Edgar Allan Poe as a person is much the same as he’s portrayed in the striking and beautifully staged Red-Eye to Havre de Grace: dark in mood, deliberate in tempo, flashing with brilliance, often broke and confused, and routinely drunk. He is, in a strange sense, larger than life because he lives with a mental abandon that puts him at constant risk.

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Ean Sheeny and Sophie Bortolussi, in a rehearsal shot for "Red-Eye to Havre de Grace.' Photo by Thaddeus Phillips.

That’s probably one reason we don’t know the details of his death, although some documentation exists about his last days on a lecture tour, many of them spent on trains and one of them in Philadelphia, where he once lived.

is a reduction of those last days into a carefully boiled theatrical sauce. I thought the play was powerful but repetitious in the 2005 Fringe, when its chief creator, Thaddeus Phillips and his highly inventive Lucidity Suitcase International stage company presented it in what Phillips now refers to as a workshop. Here, in its full evolution as one of the Live Arts offerings of the Live Arts Festival/Philly Fringe, Phillips directs and stages an even more powerful and much smoother Red-Eye, a mood piece as well as a story.

It’s also well researched; much of the spoken material comes from actual letters or from Poe’s eerie poetry. The original score is haunting, played by Jeremy and David Wilhelm, the brothers who created it, and Sophie Bortolussi’s choreography works wonderfully for her as she chases and ensnares repeatedly, as his dead wife. Even more haunting is Ean Sheeny’s intense and meticulous portrayal of Poe, down to his smallest quirk.

The play’s commanding conception, with doors and table s turning into train cars and rooms, remains — and so does a final scene atop a piano, still an indelible moment.

Red-Eye to Havre de Grace: $28-$34. 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard Streets.