Music by Wilhelm Bros. & Co.
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Despite Ranger Steve Reynolds’ (Jeremy Wilhelm) welcoming words to the NYTW audience and his insistence that “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace” is “gonna have a lot of good information [and] some important dates,” there is not much Edgar Allan Poe aficionados do not already know about Poe, his marriage to his thirteen year old cousin Virginia Clemm, his attachment to his mother-in-law (and aunt) “Muddy,” and his life-long battles with the dissolution of his ego strength and his successive descent into madness.
But providing fresh information about Edgar Allan Poe is not the purpose of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental’s brilliant and evocative “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace” currently running at the New York Theatre Workshop. Rather, the success of this impressive theatre-dance/performance piece depends on it razor sharp focus on Poe’s final journey on the red-eye train from Philadelphia to Baltimore – the train Poe mistakenly boarded instead of the train to his home in New York City.
Thaddeus Phillips, Jeremy Wilhelm, David Wilhelm, Geoff Sobelle, Sophie Bortolussi with Ean Sheehy – creators of “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace” – also reference “Eureka” which Poe “believed to be his greatest work, in which he offered the full explanation of the origin and annihilation of the universe.” Poe’s exploration of particle theory is not only an extraordinary and visionary treatise that “puts forth in rational terms the metaphysical phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘God;’ it is also a dignified and provocative trope for Edgar Allan Poe’s own self-destruction and demise and delving into deity.
The Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental is a theater creation team “that uses ‘rough’ media, documentary footage, transformational scenography, improvisation, and research to create theatrical epics that peer into not-often seen worlds.” “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace” is such an epic that peers with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel into the events surrounding Poe’s mysterious death on October 7, 1849. There have been several plausible theories of how Poe ended up in Washington College Hospital: the strength of “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace” is its commitment to exploring in detail one theory in chilling and exotic detail.
Under Thaddeus Phillips’ exacting and kaleidoscopic direction and counterpointing David and Jeremy Wilhelm’s haunting music, Alessandra L. Larson as Virginia Poe and Ean Sheehy as Edgar Allan Poe deliver what might easily be the most definitive and well-defined performances about this star-crossed couple to date. Part performance piece and part theatre-dance, “Red-Eye to Havre de Grace” is at once poignant, disturbing, electric, and discomforting. The audience connects in powerful ways to Poe’s struggles to stay connected to reality and sanity as he lives out his days mourning the loss of his “Annabel Lee” as the thumping of the “Tell-Tale Heart” reminds him of all that he has buried which is not yet forgotten.
Additionally, Poe’s battles with alcohol and laudanum connect in dramatic ways to our individual and corporate attempts to dull the pain and ennui of the twenty-first century and its sometimes hallucinogenic forays into false hopefulness and denial of reality. Humanity’s grasp on lucidity and sanity is at best tentative and seems often on the brink of dissolving into a sea of paranoia. Ranger Steve (why not Conductor Steve?) narrates Poe’s last hours before his death with skill and chilling humor and the powerful craft of Ms. Larson and Mr. Sheehy lead us to the glorious place where questioning our own sanity leads us gently to the very Valley of the Shadow just east of Eldorado.