MASQUE OF POE (Mechanical Theater): A hauntingly powerful evening of storytelling

Jonathan Elliott Coarsey performs "The Raven" in Mechanical Theater’s MASQUE OF POE (Photo credit: Loretta Vasile)

Jonathan Elliott Coarsey performs “The Raven” in Mechanical Theater’s MASQUE OF POE (Photo credit: Loretta Vasile)

Staged in different rooms of Society Hill’s 18th-century Powel House, Mechanical Theater’s Halloween-season offering, MASQUE OF POE, honors its mission of creating theatrical projects designed for Philadelphia’s unique historical settings.  And what better site for the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe than this alluring Georgian townhouse, said to be haunted by the ghost of Peggy Shippen, wife of Benedict Arnold and cousin to Elizabeth Powel.

A series of captivating solo presentations by a remarkable cast of seven conjures the vivid imagery of Poe’s disturbed mind and inner darkness. The proceedings begin as a tuxedoed majordomo (Kevin Russell) formally welcomes the evening’s small group of guests into the foyer and directs them through the hallway, up and down the stairs, and into a sequence of rooms to experience the horrors of the author’s greatest masterpieces (“The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven”) and lesser known but equally chilling works (“A Dream within a Dream,” “Imp of the Perverse,” “Hop Frog,” and “Alone”).

Mechanical Theater’s MASQUE OF POE features Melissa Amilani in “Hop Frog” (Photo credit: Loretta Vasile)

Mechanical Theater’s MASQUE OF POE features Melissa Amilani in “Hop Frog” (Photo credit: Loretta Vasile)

Each of the evocatively costumed actors recreates the mood and madness of Poe’s first-person narratives, from the maniacal cruelty of Paul Them in “The Black Cat” and Adam Landon’s increasing agitation and mental deterioration in “The Tell-Tale Heart” to the impassioned self-destructiveness portrayed by Loretta Vasile in “Imp of the Perverse.” Melissa Amilani and Jonathan Elliott Coarsey (who also directs the production) turn in stellar performances that are nothing short of flawless; she is commanding in her rich intonations and expressive movements in “Hop Frog,” and he is achingly “weak and weary” in his distant and melancholic rendition of “The Raven,” delivered in perfect poetic meter. Katy Ochoa, who moves in and out of the scenes as a ghostly apparition in a flowing white gown and mask, concludes the haunting two-hour presentation with “Alone,” as the audience is ushered out of the house and into the black of night.

MASQUE OF POE is a Halloween treat that will leave you more satisfied than any basketful of candy! [Powel House, 244 S. 3rd St.] October 23-November 1, 2014; philalandmarks.givezooks.com.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.