Thursday, May 1, 2014

Red-Eye to Harve de Grace @ The New York Theater Workshop

If you are a fan of modern dance paired with 20th Century inspired music and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, you will love Red-Eye to Harve de Grace.

NYTW Usual Suspect Thaddeus Phillips El Conquistador!) teams up with the Minneapolis-based musical duo Wilhelm Bros. & Co. to create a visually striking and sonically complex action-opera about Edgar Allan Poe's mysterious last days. Set in September of 1849Red-Eye to Havre de Grace follows Poe on his last lecture tour from Virginia to New York, focusing on a stop in Maryland when a train conductor saw Poe wearing a strangers clothes headed south, where he would die just days later. This new musical, informed by 19th Century train routes, historical accounts and Poe's own writing, creates a spellbinding sketch of a man you soon realize you know little about.

The ambiance and overall style of the show seems to be an eclectic blend of theatre of the absurd, minimalism and modern art. The scenic design and direction by Thaddeus Phillips embraces the imagination of the audience. With the sets’ simplistic and multi-purposed pieces, everything may not be what it appears.  A door may become a table; a table may become a staircase. Everything, including the actors, is perpetually shifting - keeping a sort of chaotic momentum with the story.  The writing keeps a dark Poe-like theme and incorporates many different works from Poe’s life.  However, it lacks the charm of romanticism and sentimentality that Poe classically partners with his darker musings.

Ean Sheehy gives a spirited performance as Edgar Allen Poe. His delivery is reminiscent of a young Gene Wilder. Alessandra L. Larson (Virginia Poe) is ethereal and eerie. Jeremy Wilhelm who performs as multiple characters is most enjoyable as “the ranger”. He flawlessly presents a dry humor that keeps the audience chuckling and looking forward to his return.

The highlight of the show goes to Wilhelm Bros.& Co. for their unique use of instrumentation cocktailed with Phillips direction. This is most prevalent in the last scene when Poe dies atop a baby grand while everyone else uses string inside the piano harp to create a resonating dissonance – all the while appearing as if they are trying to sew Poe together on an operating table.

Red-Eye to Harve de Grace may not be a show that everyone in the family will enjoy, but it offers an off-beat theatrical experience that some are certain to appreciate.

Review By: Paul Morin
Photos By: Sara Krulwich

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