Much Percolating Under the Surface of Nevermore

rhys bevan-john, sébastien labelle, edgar allan poe

Shakespeare By the Sea gives us a new adaptation of the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe in Nevermore, conceived by Sébastien Labelle, Rhys Bevan-John and Jesse MacLean, playing at the newly refurbished Park Place Theatre through to November 4th, 2012.

Nevermore includes retellings of five classics from Poe’s canon including “The Conquering Worm” (1843),  The Pit and the Pendulum (1843), The Cask of Amontillado (1846), “The Raven” (1845) and The Tell-Tale Heart (1843). Throughout the 90 minute show Labelle and Bevan-John explore a multitude of different performance genres to bring these stories to life. The most immediately captivating are Bevan-John’s mimed performance of The Pit and the Pendulum, which feels like watching a silent film with title cards and the beautiful, evocative Cask of Amontillado reminiscent of Commedia Dell’Arte.

The Cask of Amontillado is the best display of the artistry of this collective of the evening. Jesse MacLean has staged a challenging scene, which is essentially just Labelle and Bevan-John walking in circles, in such a way that you feel propelled into a dank cave, you sense the length and intensity of this journey and you feel the mounting ominous tension between Labelle’s Montresor and Bevan-John’s Fortunato with ardent vivacity. Bevan-John provides some comic relief in this piece and he is perfectly sparred by Labelle as his more somber and brooding compatriot. The contrast between Fortunato’s gaiety and his impending death is delightfully dreadful. Tom Gordon Smith’s lighting design is magnificent in helping to capture the ambiance of this tale (and is constantly so throughout the night) and much of the magic of Amontillado comes from Smith’s projected brick wall, which is one of the most realistic projections I have ever seen used in the theatre. This scene encapsulates exactly what these artists are capable of and I wished that the entire evening were of the same caliber.

In general the combination of the talents of Bevan-John, Labelle, MacLean and Poe offer an almost endless spectrum of potential, where one could delve into almost any moment and mine it out into a play of its own. Yet, while the direction that Nevermore heads in is exciting, at times riveting, at times spooky, often visually spectacular, the rest of the show feels under-developed. In “The Raven”, for example, Labelle recites Poe’s poem on one side of the stage akin to Alistair Cooke in Masterpiece Theatre while Bevan-John performs the puppetry of a gorgeous raven puppet on the other. MacLean stages most of Labelle’s limited action directly to the audience and he also says the raven’s famous line, so the performances of the two actors don’t intersect enough to build tension or relationship and it never makes the leap from being the narration of a poem to the performance of a scene. In Tell-Tale Heart Bevan-John is our protagonist and here he has developed a very distinct character but once again MacLean stages the scene so that he directly addresses the audience for most of the scene and from the opposite end of the stage as his scene partner, the puppet old man. This diffuses the tension that Bevan-John tries to build in his storytelling. The ending comes alive as Bevan-John’s murderer collides both with his victim and with the police officer (both played by Labelle) to create some wonderfully captivating moments. I wondered why MacLean waited so long to allow the dynamics between his two actors to create high stakes, intensity and intrigue in the scene. I also wondered why the opportunity to stage the dismemberment of a dead body onstage in an Edgar Allan Poe play during Halloween was squandered.

As the events of Edgar Allan Poe’s life were horrifically tragic, the conceit of Nevermore sees Labelle and Bevan-John clowning around with some lighter banter between the scenes. This feels a little incongruous with the spirit of the Opening poem where they say “and horror the soul of the plot,” but I think that the idea of juxtaposing a sort of Vaudevillian playfulness with the darkness of the sketches could create a fascinating effect. Labelle and Bevan-John’s shtick hasn’t found its own distinct rhythm and style yet so these in-between moments feel a bit borrowed and deflated, but the potential for something unique and dynamic is certainly percolating under the surface.

Indeed, this collective creation is full of the beginnings of fantastic ideas waiting to be explored and I would love to see Labelle, Bevan-John, Smith and MacLean delve deeper into Poe’s work and to realize the potential that is so obvious here. I think there is the makings of something brilliant in Nevermore. I hope to see it’s return next Halloween.

Nevermore plays at the Park Place Theatre (in Point Pleasant Park, South End) until November 4th, 2012. Performances are Thursday October 25th-Sunday October 28th at 8:00pm with a 2:00pm matinee on October 28th and 8:00pm Wednesday October 31st to Sunday November 4th. Tickets from $15.00- $20.00 (plus tax). For more information or to book your tickets please visit this website.    

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