by Leta Tremblay · May 2, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #85 Leta Tremblay looks at Red-Eye to Havre de Grace at New York Theatre Workshop
After seeing Red-Eye to Havre de Grace, my theater date and I left New York Theatre Workshop and walked around the East Village for hours talking about the play. We were elated to revel in the skill of these artists telling a theatrically compelling story of a very human Edgar Allen Poe. We’d entered the theater a mere 95 minutes previous not knowing anything about the production. We were blown away
The press release calls the production, “a visually striking and sonically complex action-opera about Edgar Allan Poe’s mysterious final days” and “a spellbinding sketch of a man you soon realize you know little about.” Both of these descriptions are entirely accurate. What Director, Set Designer, and Co-Creator Thaddeus Phillips has developed for the stage with his collaborators at The Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental is nothing short of miraculous.
The evening opens with “Ranger Steve” taking the stage to give the curtain speech. He introduces himself as a ranger for United States National Park Service stationed at the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia and tells us that he’s here to give us some background on Poe. He wears the ranger uniform with traditional brown straight-rimmed hat. He seems a little nervous but charming and genuine and immediately puts the audience at ease and we all share some laughs. He ends his speech with a recitation of one of Poe’s poems, “The Conqueror Worm,” and we are swept away into Poe’s world.
Not being a Poe connoisseur myself, I appreciated the brief history that Ranger Steve provided. Characters that I met throughout the evening immediately felt familiar to me and I was able to fall deeply into the disorienting excursion that were Poe’s final days. It’s interesting that the play centers on this time leading up to his death. It was revealed over the course of the evening that there is actually very little known about how he spent that time and many of the facts that we do have are confusing and seem discordant to Poe’s normal behavior. What storytelling gold to be able to offer a suggestion of what might have happened!
The production itself is playful yet haunting. All of the design elements seem to flawlessly work hand in hand from Phillips’ simple yet ingenious use of space within this particular theater to Drew Billiau’s dynamic lighting casting long shadows and manipulating our perspective. The music of Wilhelm Bros. & Co. seeps into our pores and surrounds us with melancholy, anticipation, and joy as the plot requires.
There are only four performers onstage and yet their performances are so full and vibrant that it felt like a cast of 30. Each of them shone in their own right while complementing each other like a puzzle piecing itself together.
Alessandra L. Larson (Virginia Poe) was a real stand out within the strong ensemble telling her part of the story entirely through the vivid movement of Sophie Bortolussi’s choreography. She was magical and mesmerizing as the haunting memory of Poe’s lost wife. Her physicality was so clear and effortless that she didn’t need to speak at all to communicate volumes. And just wait until you see her entrance in Act III. It is astounding to me that she has only recently joined the company for this production at New York Theater Workshop. I would have thought that she’d been with the project for years.
Ean Sheehy as Poe does a top-notch job of depicting a genius in rapid decline. He brings such humanity to this historical figure that we feel as though we know him and appreciate his plight.
I was not surprised to discover, in reading my program later, that this play has had a long development history since the birth of the idea in May 1996 by Phillips and Jeremy Wilhelm (Vocals, Composer, Co-Creator). Wilhelm’s brother David (Orchestra, Composer, Co-Creator) joined the team 10 years ago and the two Wilhelms fill out the stage beautifully with live sound and music bringing urgency and presence to each moment.
During our East Village walk and post-show discussion, my theater date turned to me and said, “This is theater. This is what theater is supposed to be. I hope that it runs forever.”