Highly recommended **** As you sit in the library of the Peabody Mansion at Mayslake, waiting for First Folio’s production of “The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe: A Love Story”, I couldn’t help remembering the anticipation I used to feel on nights we were going to gather around a campfire for s’mores and scary stories. I can report that the stories were mysterious, macabre and creepy, the mansion had the requisite creaking stairs, eerie moving shadows and slamming doors, but there weren’t any s’mores! I give “The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe” 4 Spotlights.
Was Edgar Allan Poe (Christian Gray) actually mad or did he, as his wife Virginia (Heather Chrisler) suggests, just like writing scary stories? We know he didn’t make a lot of money from happy endings, so I think he was the Steven King of his day.
Playwright David Rice has written an intriguing script which blends Poe’s stories and poetry and bits and pieces of his life into an intriguing whole. Poe is a passionate man; passionate about his work and passionate about his wife. While he concentrates on his work, Virginia, a strong, understanding and patient woman, talks about her Eddie. Cousins, she and Eddie met when he came to live with her family. They married privately when she was thirteen, then had a more public wedding after she turned fourteen. She mentions that he lost his mother to consumption when he was a toddler, he lost his step-mother to consumption, and now he’s going to lose Virginia to consumption, too.
Beginning and ending in the library (unfortunately empty of books), the audience is led around the mansion. If you’re an architecture/historical homes aficionado, this is an excellent opportunity to see areas normally closed to the public. As you move upstairs, you’ll notice the woodwork on the main stairway is truly magnificent.
In the study – complete with a secret staircase behind the paneling – the audience hears the story of the “Telltale Heart” as told by the Madman (Kevin McKillip) in an un-freaking- believably great performance!
The lights actually go completely out in the dungeon (actually a small room on the second floor) so the audience can share the terror of the prisoner in “The Pit and the Pendulum.”
The mansion’s former chapel (First Folio’s normal theater space), with its stained glass and vaulted ceiling, is the location for the metaphysical story of “Ligeia” played by Leena Kurishingal.
Due to the seating configuration, sight lines for the final scene in the library aren’t always good. On the other hand, the aisles created by the chairs are perfectly lined up for the entire cast to waltz the plague away at the masquerade ball in “The Masque of the Red Death.”
The gorgeous costumes and the creepy sound effects certainly add to the whole macabre experience. “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe” is a Halloween treat!
“The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” runs through November 1st at First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Hall, Peabody Estate, 31st Street & Rt. 83, Oak Brook. Performances are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm; Thursday and Sunday at 3:00, with additional performances on October 17th and 31st at 4:00. Running time is 1 hour, 50 minutes. Tickets range from $25-$39. Parking is free. FYI (630) 986-8067 or www.firstfolio.org.
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