With its signature style of presenting site-specific classics in evocative historical settings, The Mechanical Theater, since its establishment in 2013, has quickly become a go-to company for authentic artistic experiences. Its latest original offering, THE MADNESS OF POE, is a spellbinding production for this Halloween season. Adapted and directed by the multi-talented Eric Singel, the immersive story interweaves passages from The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, Loss of Breath, and other macabre favorites by Edgar Allan Poe into a single narrative, as three inmates of an asylum for the criminally insane move in and out of reality, recounting episodes of their heinous acts and delusions.
Performed in the redolent period rooms of Fairmount Park’s Historic Strawberry Mansion (constructed ca. 1783-1828), the audience is formally greeted in the foyer by the fictitious Dr. Strawberry (Sean Vermeire), who introduces his patients and displays their madness to the incoming group of outside observers, acknowledging that his institution’s methods “have cured no one.” Neena Boyle, Geremy Webne-Behrman, and Vermeire are enthralling as the inmates, capturing the distinctive mannerisms and moods of mental disturbance with their repetitive rocking, stuttering, lunatic laughter, slurping, and snorting, sudden physical assaults, and unexpected moments of apparent lucidity. Their spine-chilling tapping and knocking, a surprising sleight-of-hand disappearance, and echoing chants of “brick, brick, brick” and “bong, bong, bong” bring Poe’s eerie tales to life with an “acuteness of senses,” thrusting us into the dark and frightening mind of the hair-raising Romantic writer.
All of this is accomplished by the outstanding young troupe in three filthy oversized tee-shirts, using only minimal props (a blood-spattered sheet, a vintage-style diary, a flashlight, a wicker-covered wine bottle, and two feathered masks), the natural acoustics of the house, the dimming and extinguishing of its lights, and an enormous amount of imagination and talent. THE MADNESS OF POE and The Mechanical Theater will leave you considerably spooked and extremely impressed.