Prepare yourself to embark on a physical, emotional and intellectual journey while undertaking "The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story," a First Folio Theatre production performed at Oak Brook's Mayslake Peabody Mansion.
Using Poe's stories, poems and letters, First Folio playwright and executive director David Rice takes us on an excursion through the influential author's macabre and melancholic psyche, illuminating the obsessive sorrow and sadness behind such works as "Annabel Lee," "Lenore" and "The Masque of the Red Death."
Contact information ( * required )
"The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story"★ ★ ★
Location: Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, (630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 4
Running time: Just under two hours, no intermission
Parking: Free in lot adjacent to theater
Rating: For middle school and older
This is a journey through Poe's heartbreaking loss of his beloved wife Virginia at the age of 24 to consumption, or tuberculosis, as we now call it. Poe had experienced the premature death of loved ones before -- his mother when he was 3 and, later, his foster mother -- but it was the death of his cousin "Sissy," who he married when she was just 13, that served as the catalyst for his downward spiral.
As you might imagine, the weaving of Poe's artistic and personal lives is not a straight line. Nor is it a linear narrative. As you move from room to room in the Tudor Revival Peabody Mansion, you go from witnessing scenes of the Poes' sweet domesticity to terrifying re-enactments of some of Poe's most heart-thumping works including "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Masque of the Red Death."
If you haven't read Poe's gothic writings in a while, this production allows you to experience his dark romanticism in a more grounded, yet visceral, way. As you sit in claustrophobic darkness in "The Pit and the Pendulum," listening to the pendulum slowly swinging, the water dripping and the rats scurrying, you begin to understand, or at least accept, Poe's obsession with death and decay.
Poe, as portrayed by Christian Gray, is both manic and courtly, deftly drawing you into the writer's inner world of madness and sorrow. Virginia, played by Diane Mair, delicately combines youth and sweetness with a certain wisdom and humor.
The play, in its fourth production since 2006, has been brilliantly staged. The mansion, with its creaking staircases and hidden wall panels, is perfect for this production.
The sounds by Christopher Kriz -- the beating of the heart, the swinging of the pendulum -- create just the right amount of grating tension. The costumes by Rachel Lambert are so delightful you want to reach out and touch the beautiful silks as the actors waltz by you.
Indeed, "The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story" is a sensory journey as vivid, intense, excruciating and exquisite as Poe's writing.