Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pure Poe-etry with Theater in the Open

We all know that, for better or worse, pictures convey more information, more quickly than words ever will, but the Lydia See photo you see here, as powerful and creepy as it is, just barely scratches the surface of what will be happening at Maudslay State Park this weekend. It shows a line of cloaked specters. Only one face is visible. It’s blank, emotionless and appears to be covered with lesions. The image is from "Poe," a new Theater in the Open show — specifically the Master of the Macabre's short story "The Masque of the Red Death." What the picture doesn't show — and what word-slingers, even extremely long-winded ones like yours truly, can explain in far less than a thousand words — is the claustrophobic context of the piece: These figures, suffering from a plague-like disease, but who can be seen as a monstrous metaphor for any of the thousands of scary things out there in the world, will be surrounding the audience, as a narrator reads Poe's texts, creating the impression of being locked away in the relatively safe confines of the dauntless and sagacious Prince Prospero's castle, but for how long? The population has been halved already.
"Masque of the Red Death" is one of several imaginatively staged Poe pieces in a production that may remind you of the Rites of Spring — or, for those of you with longer memories, the company's past collaborations with Bread and Puppet, the innovative Vermont theater company, but without the death march vibe. Man, how they would bounce you around the park. With "Poe," there will be a few stops over the course of the show, including one at the old swimming pool, which will be covered, again with the tell-tale claustrophics, creating the idea of being entombed while creating conditions for shadow-work during a reading of "The Raven." The show will also include readings "The Tell-tale Heart" and "Annabel Lee."  And since it's a Theater in the Open show, expect puppetry, movement and a bit of audience participation.

And the aerial artist? Now that's unexpected.

The real trick with this production, says TITO artistic director Edward Speck, is to illustrate the stories without distracting from the texts. "That's where the real magic takes place," he says. "Poe is the absolute pinnacle of horror and macabre — whatever you want to call it. It's not just the boogieman out in the world or the ax murderer at the door — the staples of modern horror stories. The horror is internal. It's the evil we're all capeable of. It's difficult to dramatize, there's not a whole lot of action. You want to illustrate the piece, but not overwhelm the text with the visual. It's a balancing act."
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Theater in the Open will stage "Poe," an original adaptation of works by Edgar Allen Poe, at 4 p.m. weekends from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3 at Maudslay State Park, Curzon Mill Road, Newburyport. The Sept. 18 performance is free. Tickets for other productions are $8, or $5 for students and seniors. Parking in the main Maudslay lot is $2. It is an outdoors production. Follow the flags to get to the play site. Allow for a 15-minute walk. For more infomation, check out the TITO web or call 978.465.2572.


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