Spend an evening with Poe

SOLANA BEACH – “Nevermore…An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe,” is returning to the North Coast Repertory Theatre for a one-night only showing with acclaimed actor Jeffrey Combs.
The one man-show is an imagining of what an evening would be like to see and hear Edgar Allan Poe on one of his traveling recitals during his lifetime in the mid-1800s.
“It starts out fairly typical and formal,” said Combs. “But because of Poe’s tendency to self-destruct, shall we say, the evening kind of takes some unexpected, downward turns.
“But it also gives people a view of Poe in all of his colors and not just a whitewashed sort of rendition of his poem without really getting to know who the guy was or what his inner demons were…Having said that, there’s a great deal of humor.”
No stranger to the macabre, Combs has appeared in more than 40 horror films, including starring in the 1985 cult classic “Re-Animator,” directed by Stuart Gordon, who also directed the play.
“Nevermore…” came out Combs’ wanting to portray an historical figure in a film. He didn’t know who he would portray, but Combs noticed there were physical resemblances between him and Poe.
He and Gordon later filmed an adaptation of Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” for Showtime’s “Master of Horror” series. The script called for Poe to be the main character in the story, Combs explained. “And so while we were shooting that, (Gordon) said, ‘My God, I feel like I’m sitting here with Poe…you should do a one-man show.’ And I said, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’”
After about a year of gentle prodding, Combs agreed to do the show.
Whenever Combs would tell somebody that he was doing a one-man show on Poe, the responses he got were people saying simply, “Oh.” That stems from people thinking of Poe as dark and spooky and sad, he said. “And certainly there’s those elements, but there’s humor, too,” Combs added.
For Combs the role of playing Poe, with his transitioning from one emotion to another over the extent of the play, is one that doesn’t come cheaply. “It’s a bit of a marathon run for me,” he said. “It’s kind of cathartic and a little bit of therapy. It’s a great tool for me to sort of vent a little bit and release some of my own anxieties, and it does. It’s not easy visiting a tortured soul like that,” he added.
When the show first began two years ago, it was originally supposed to be a four-week run; it turned into a six month run instead, and as the performances became more frequent, his wife would ask him when he would be done with the show because of the toll it took on him. Now that the shows are performed on a less-regular basis, Combs said the role is a little easier to manage.
“It’s not that Poe is weird,” he said. “A lot of the things that I talk about in the play, I think why it resonates so much, is because that’s how people feel, too.”
The show takes place in one evening on a sparsely decorated stage, where Combs explores lost love, the unfairness of life and why some people get rewarded for mediocrity and other people who are gifted get ignored. We all can see that in our daily lives, he said.
For many, there is still a fascination with Poe. He not only wrote tales of horror, but he also was a poet who wrote with a musicality all his own and was an acerbic literary critic.
“He created the mystery genre,” Combs explained. “There would be no Sherlock Holmes if there weren’t Poe, and Arthur Conan Doyle said that,” he added. “He was truly a mental giant; and he was also a truly self-destructive giant. I call him ‘America’s Van Gogh;’ he was brilliant and tortured.”
Poe’s own life was as interesting and as mysterious as some of his own tales. He was born Jan. 19, 1809 in Boston, Mass. to a pair of traveling actors, but was raised in Richmond, Va. by a family of tobacco merchants. On Oct. 3, 1849, Poe was found lying in the streets of Baltimore where he died four days later of unknown causes.
His life included a series of ups-and-downs and a history of making the wrong decisions.
“Poe called it the ‘Imp of the Perverse,’” said Combs. It’s that little demon inside you that just makes you screw it up, he explained, but Poe did it to the tenth power.
Combs said he doesn’t have any plans to continue the play after performing at the North Coast Rep and following his first-ever performance at Lincoln Center in New York, Halloween night, where they’ll also show his film “The Black Cat” before the play.
“Nevermore…An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe,” directed by Stuart Gordon and written by Dennis Paoli is Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m. at the North Coast Repertory Theatre. Tickets are available at northcoastrep.org.

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