Edgar Allan Poe is a literary master of the macabre, and the Halloween season is an ideal time to highlight his works. Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater’s musical “Nevermore” is a haunting journey into Poe’s madness and literary genius.
Poe’s life reads like one of his ghoulish tales, and “Nevermore” (music by Matt Conner and book by Grace Barnes) capitalizes upon this through its artistic interpretation of the poet’s life flashing before him, after collapsing at age 40 in 1849. Told through the women who helped mold Poe, the musical’s lyrics are adapted from his poems, with some of his short stories woven between, as these pivotal females appear before him as in life and some as in death.
Playing the self-obsessed Poe, Ethan Paulini emphasizes the poet’s desperate desire to connect with the women in his life. With unkempt hair, he shows Poe’s disturbing side, when creepily saying, “I prey on people’s deepest fears.” As the story progresses, the actor deftly exhibits Poe’s marked departure from reality, as his “stories become real” and “the voices in [his] head” never stop.
Even though she died when he was a toddler, it’s obvious Poe’s mother, a former actress, left a big hole in his heart. Compellingly portrayed by Cynthia Harrington, she stands in judgment, critiquing her son’s questionable actions. In turn, he blames his incessant loneliness on her untimely passing and his belief that “women have a tendency of leaving.”
Elmira is Poe’s first love, played by Amie Lytle with a lilting Southern accent. She encourages the young Poe to write, and later in life believes she can help save him from his eminent demise.
Nauset sophomore Madison Mayer is the captivating Virginia — Poe’s cousin and child bride at 13, when he’s 26. Virginia is beguiled by Poe, and Mayer embodies this with her giddy expectations of Poe’s latest gruesome short story, which, disturbingly, she likes told as a bedtime tale. Mayer is dressed in an exquisite black gown throughout, and the dark outfit takes on a different meaning on their wedding day, suggestive of another untimely death. A bewitching ode to Virginia, the song “Annabel Lee,” sends shivers down the spine.
Leigh Barrett is Poe’s stalwart mother-in-law. She is the voice of reason when Poe first has eyes for her beloved daughter, insisting “[He] must possess everything.” When Virginia sweetly asks Poe what kind of dreams she will have, her mother ominously states, “Bloody ones.”
Dressed in red, Anne Stott is “The Whore,” offering to fulfill Poe’s needs. Together they sing the Latin-themed “El Dorado” based on Poe’s last poem about a quest for happiness.
Director Christopher Ostrom maintains the play’s intensity for a non-stop 90 minutes. Music director John Thomas expertly accompanies the actors’ fine voices on the piano, along with Katie Lynch Koglin on the period-perfect harp.
Michael Steers’ scenic and lighting design is eerily beautiful with its orchestrated chaos, as 12 lit chandeliers hang randomly and mismatched from the ceiling, framed by tattered and askew black velvet curtains. The minimal furniture is black, with a random piling of cast-offs to the far side, with the set’s design suggestive of Poe’s unstable yet brilliant, mind.
Jennifer Spagone’s costume design is refined elegance and perfectly befitting of each character.
Albeit histrionic at times, the musical “Nevermore” builds upon the fervor of Poe’s decline through alcoholism and insanity, taking the audience into his topsy-turvy world where the lines between reality and twisted tale are blurred.
At Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater
Through Nov. 6
Information and reservations: 508-349-9428