The mysterious final days of Edgar Allan Poe are brought to life with astonishing theatricality in “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace,” presented by the Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental at the Paramount Theatre.
Four performers bring a breathtaking array of talent to create the sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always captivating world of Poe, the poet, critic, and essayist, whose mind unravels as he tries to make his way back to New York after a speaking engagement in Philadelphia.
An eerie, enchanting musical score by the Wilhelm Bros. & Co. includes not only some impressive tenor vocals from Jeremy Wilhelm (who plays several characters), but some gasp-inducing compositions that utilize several pianos’ percussive and stringed instrument qualities in surprising ways.
The music, performed by David Wilhelm, creates the emotional backdrop for our journey with Poe, zigzagging not only from one train station to the next, but also into and out of his increasingly frantic emotional state.
Ean Sheehy offers a proud but sensitive Poe, one who resents being asked to perform his greatest hit, “The Raven,” rather than what he believes is his masterpiece, “Eureka!,” his trippy explanation of the origin of the universe. Sheehy also reveals Poe’s practical side as he attempts to pay for a hotel room with a poem, just before we step into his nightmarish world of loneliness and longing.
As his fears begin to overwhelm him, Poe is haunted by his dead wife, Virginia, played by choreographer Sophie Bortolussi, in a silent but sinuous and athletic series of movements that run from tender to terrifying.
“Red-Eye’s” director and designer Thaddeus Phillips vividly conjures a series of locations with only a few tables transforming into doors, train cars, hotel rooms, and even a chicken coop. Phillips’s approach is refreshing and always surprising, and his sense of flow takes us both inside Poe’s crumbling mind and outside, to our contemporary perspective on the poet.
Drew Billiau’s lighting is so evocative it almost becomes a character itself. Production elements, including supertitles and narrative setup, provide the perfect gateway into fragments of musical adaptations of some of Poe’s work, and the world of the play.
The title refers to the train route — Havre de Grace is a stop outside Baltimore — and this “Red-Eye” is, without a doubt, one of the most spellbinding trips I’ve taken in a long time.