Thursday, December 25, 2014

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

In the Fringe, a haunting enactment of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

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

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

By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

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.

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.

Red-Eye
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.
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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. 

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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