Goodly Creatures Theatre brings Poe's poetry to life with 'Nevermore'

Goodly Creatures Theatre brings Poe's poetry to the stage with original adaptation 'Nevermore'

Edgar Allan Poe's dark and mysterious poetry comes to the stage to tell the story of modern lives ravaged by loss in "Nevermore," an original adaptation by Goodly Creatures Theatre, which opened last week and runs through Aug. 18 at the Elgin Arts Showcase.

Inspired by Poe's own life struggles and unabridged poetic works, the play follows characters who seek security and family in the criminal underbelly of society. At the heart of this story is William, a young man in search of family and identity after the untimely death of his wife.

The running theme is self-transformation, for better or worse, said Katrina Syrris, Goodly Creatures founder and artistic director.

"Each character follows a path that Poe might have taken," she said. "Some appeal to the dark within themselves to deal with grief, and some appeal to the light. It's as if every character in the show plays out an alternate facet of Poe's inner workings. However, our hero, William, is Poe in the best sense."

Syrris chose to adapt Poe's poetry based on an audience member who suggested the historic and gothic Elgin Arts Showcase would be a fitting backdrop for the works of the troubled and complicated poet. And in researching the topic, Syrris saw a tie to modern-day ills.

"Upon learning more about Poe's life struggles and his bleeding heart, I chose to use modern social issues to tie his works together with the same life struggles that inspired his works: love, mortality, drug addiction and crime," Syrris said.

"The perfect scene for all of those themes happened to be a contemporary criminal organization, which I aptly named The Ravens."

In writing this adaptation, Syrris was impressed with Poe's resilience.

"In spite of his troubles, that indeed ended up being his own demise, he still maintained the capacity to love others," she said.

"He grew up in an abusive household after his family took him in once his parents died. He could never find a father figure to inspire him, but he had deep and loving relationships with women, who, unfortunately, died prematurely. But no matter the loss, he remembered the love and never feared to love again."

Aside from his poetry, Poe is probably best remembered for struggling with mental illness and drug addiction, which is a huge stigma in our culture, Syrris noted.

"What we fail to realize is that these ills are not chosen by the vessel. These ills are imposed upon us by our biological makeup, and even more so by our sociocultural circumstances.

"This show brings to life the process by which we can all fall prey to these ills, and how, with a lot of effort and self-awareness, we can overcome them and how we can be our own demise if we do not," she added.

In casting the show, Syrris chose actors who would also face personal transformation in their roles.

"It became apparent pretty early in the rehearsal process that each of the characters presented a tailored challenge for each individual actor," said Rachel Stevens, who plays Lenore.

"Whether it was something as small as more physicality than one was used to, or something as large scale as facing one's personal demons, Katrina cast the show in such a way that pushed each of us to give the performance of our lives."

This show was, in part, inspired by Kurt Sutter's "Sons of Anarchy," a popular TV show inspired by Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Syrris said. Like the popular show, Goodly Creatures productions bring the classics to life with a modern twist.

"We carry the same torch to teach in ways that a desensitized, modern audience will find thrilling, riveting and memorable. Poe's poetic works are alive and unseen, and we seek to bring them to the light in ways that will resonate," Syrris said.

Because Poe's poetry isn't as well-known as his short stories, Syrris hopes the audience will walk away with a new appreciation.

"His poetry speaks to his humanity, and is an inside view into the workings of his mind and heart," she said.

"We know Poe as the gothic storyteller, but we don't know Poe as the man, the troubled and yet loving genius. His works speak directly to the core of issues we are still facing today, they teach us lessons learned the hard way secondhand.

"Forewarned is forearmed, and with compassion inspired by his works, we can help ourselves and our loved ones to avoid similar fates."

Ian Samsami (Thomas) and Johnny Hohman (Jacob) star in Goodly Creatures' production of "Nevermore," running through Aug. 18 at Elgin Arts Showcase. Courtesy of Katrina Syrris
Rachel Stevens (Lenore) stars in "Nevermore," a play about personal transformation based on the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. Courtesy of Lunacek Photography
Ben Halder (William), Ian Samsami (Thomas) and Greg Walden (Wilson) star in "Nevermore," running through Aug. 18 at Elgin Arts Showcase. Courtesy of Lunacek Photography

If you go

What: Goodly Creatures Theatre's production of "Nevermore"

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 8-10 and 15-17; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Aug. 11 and 18

Where: The Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., Elgin

Tickets: Available online or at the door; $15 adults, $12 students and seniors; <a href=""></a>

Additional details:

• Due to mature themes, the play is recommended for ages 17 and older.

• Goodly Creatures is hosting a preshow Poe-themed art gallery by artists of the Awakenings Project, a grass-roots organization dedicated to helping artists with mental illness. A silent auction of a Poe piece composed by Irene O'Neill of Awakenings will benefit the Awakenings organization.

• Goodly Creatures has partnered with tattoo artist Chris Skonieczny of Topnotch Tattoos in downtown Elgin to create a customized emblem for the show's costumes. T-shirts featuring his one-of-a-kind design will be sold, with proceeds going to the artists and Goodly Creatures to fund future performances.

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