Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grotesque and Arabesque: Poe Retold, Weird City Theatre at the Blue Theatre, October 18 - November 3

Grotesque and Arabesque Poe Retold Weird City Theatre Company Austin TX

AustinLiveTheatre review
by Dr. David Glen Robinson

I keep hearing the BLUE Theatre is closed or closing, but I keep going there to shows, despite the construction and demolition all around it. Now Weird City Theatre has installed in it Grotesque and Arabesque: Poe Retold, a bold collection of five one-acts abstracted from five of Poe’s horror stories. The story treatments were written by Weird City Theatre company members or associates, and they arrive on stage as one-act plays just in time for weird Austin’s favorite holiday.

Full disclosure: Poe is my favorite author, and I admit as much in my Facebook profile. So my expectations were sky-high when I entered the theatre. The adaptations are of well-known horror stories that I have read many times. I knew Weird City Theatre had the guns to deal with their self-appointed tasks; they specialize in plays dealing in pop culture genres, such as goth, vampire and zombie themes. They offered two particularly memorable stage versions of Night of the Living Dead in 2008 and in 2011 and also William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes in 2009.

Grotesque and Arabesque Poe Retold Weird City Theatre Austin TX
Chris Romani (image: Weird City Theatre)

Carl G. Jung's definition of archetypes assists in enjoying good art. He talked about archetypes as forms, probably arising from the unconscious, that continue through time and offer unbounded opportunity for creative play. Multiple times and diverse cultures rediscover them as their own and play with them in different modes, making them the vehicles for their perpetuation. Edgar Allan Poe clearly and intuitively tapped into archetypes; that’s why he can give us the ever-famous frisson of horror when we read his stories. Does the same hair-raising, shivering, why-did-I-come-here reaction take place when the story medium transmutes to the medium of the stage? That might be the standard of evaluation for Weird City Theatre’s production.

And, oh my! The experiment succeeded, the subject survived—now it lives among us. Thee short pieces ranged from clever to brilliant in their imagining and writing, while the staging and realizations varied a little more widely in their successes. One of the cleverest concepts in the show was a series of vignettes and considerations of the true-life story of the Poe Toaster, the mysterious figure, never identified, who from the 1930s to the late 1990s placed roses and a bottle of cognac at Poe’s grave monument in Baltimore. He or she was said by observers to visit the cemetery every year on Poe’s birthdate in the wee hours and perform small personal rituals and raise a toast in cognac to the gravestone. He or she then departed from the cemetery, leaving behind the cognac and roses. Weird City uses this story as a connecting thread between the pieces, showing us four different treatments of it, with dialogue considerations of the Poe and his Toaster all the while. I especially appreciated the last piece in this miniseries, featuring Kevin Gouldthorpe’s soliloquy on Poe as “beautiful but never pretty” and a man holding up a mirror to us in our most private moments. The stage artists showed profound respect for the literary artist, expressed in the best way they knew how to express it—on stage. At that moment I knew I could trust Weird City with my Poe.

Read more at AustinLiveTheatre.com . . . .

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