A Raven Good Time With Edgar Allan Poe – Review

Edgar Allan Poe’s works have been relentlessly adapted and deconstructed in the century and a half since his mysterious death.  The creepy fellow who was obsessed with murder, his unhappy life, and the unexplained cause of his death have been the subjects of many biographies too.  At the United Solo Festival, playwright/actor Dixon Gutierrez combines a little biography and a little deconstruction with plenty of manic energy in his show A Raven Good Time with Edgar Allan Poe.  That tremendous energy is sometimes an asset to the show, but it’s often a problem too.

Gutierrez plays Edgar Allan Poe in this one-man show, and Poe is fully aware that he’s in a play about himself, and frequently interacts with the audience.  He tells the story of his own life, his marriage to a teenage cousin, her tragic death, and the inspirations for many of his most famous works.  Passages from some of his stories are recited, acted out, or interpreted through song and puppetry (With puppeteers Maribel Martinez and Juan Madriz).

There are more than a few inside references for fans, and the script has many subtleties that only Poe fans will catch.  However the show also functions as a basic primer on Poe’s life and work, so people who only know the man through his most famous writing will probably learn a little something about him and his more obscure stories.

Generally the performance is done in a farcical tone, such as the song about murdering your wife (Performed by Poe and a chorus of puppets). There are modern anachronisms in the dialogue too, and these are used deliberately for comic effect.

Gutierrez is prone to broad physical humor, but the show often takes on a serious tone too, and this abrupt change in tone is especially jarring since the comedy is done with overblown slapstick, and the drama is likewise explosive.

No director is credited, and the guiding hand of someone with an objective view on the material would certainly have helped keep the performance more balanced.  While there is potential with the piece, it often felt too frantic and chaotic with transitions between tone being awkward.

Although part of a festival of one-person shows, A Raven Good Time cheats a little by bringing in the pair of puppeteers, but also in using some audience interaction. One of more perplexing segments was when Gutierrez brought an audience member onstage and had him tell the audience a joke which the audience member improvised.  Almost immediately, Poe ushered the audience member offstage and launched into another bit.

Being part of a festival, the production values were kept at a minimum, with very simple set, costume and tech.  The puppetry was the most extravagant aspect of the show.

A Raven Good Time with Edgar Allan Poe was presented for one night only as part of the United Solo Festival.  Even though it offered some insight into the man and his writing (Plus an interesting speculation on his “Death”), it was brief, unfocused and unpolished.  Poe fans should not lament missing it, but hopefully it will return again in a more refined form some day.

The United Solo Festival will continue with other nerdy theatrical productions through November 18th.

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