First Folio’s ‘Madness’ in the mansion
Christian Gray stars in "The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe."
‘The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story’
First Folio Theatre , Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook
8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 4
(630) 986-8067; www.firstfolio.org
Updated: September 27, 2012 12:40PM
There will not be blood.
Nor will there be screaming skulls or ghouls wielding chainsaws.
“No one’s going to jump out at you,” explains David Rice, executive director of First Folio Theatre. “It’s not a haunted house.” It’s Rice’s play, “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe,” presented by First Folio at Oak Brook’s Mayslake Peabody Mansion through Nov. 4.
And yet, Rice continues, “I’ve had a number of people tell me this play is one of the most frightening shows they’ve ever seen, more on a psychological level than something that’s just creepy.”
Rice uses Poe’s works to delve into the dark corners of the author’s depressed and often deranged psyche and his apparently happy marriage to his cousin, Virginia. Actors playing Poe (Christian Gray) and Virginia (Diana Mair) lead audiences from room to room for scenes that dramatize Poe’s life and several of his works, which, says Rice, show how the author’s reality melded to his art.
So if anything in this production is haunted, it’s Poe himself, whose life and work were shaped by poverty, illness and death, and particularly, the devastating loss of his beloved Virginia to consumption at age 24.
And yet… there’s something about the Mayslake Peabody mansion...
“It has such an incredible atmosphere, and especially at night it can be a bit foreboding and eerie,” Rice says. “It lends itself to the sense of the macabre that was always building in Poe’s stories.”
Once home to coal tycoon, F. S. Peabody, the stately house, did in fact, serve as something of a muse for this show. “This is our home,” says Rice, “and the play was specifically tailored for the mansion and for the rooms we have.”
Completed in 1921, the Tudor Revival building with decorative half-timbering, and steep gables overlooks a quiet, wooded lake.
Rice chose certain Poe works to dramatize because “they reflected on Poe and his life, and his life reflected back on them,” but he also knew which pieces would work in specific rooms.
For instance, the large, dark-paneled formal library provides a gracious setting for the audience to meets the Poes, learn of their lives and love, and where his poem, “The Bells” will resonate nicely.
Then the audience splits in two parts. One group moves to the event hall, formerly the mansion’s chapel with vaulted ceilings, stained glass and somber religious furnishings to hear the story of “Ligeia,” with its riffs on drugs, metaphysics and resurrection.
Meanwhile, in Mr. Peabody’s much smaller upstairs study where a wood wall panel hides a secret staircase, the other group learns the story of the relentless, beating “Telltale Heart.” Then it’s on to the dungeon to experience the tale of “The Pit and the Pendulum.”
Both groups return to that elegant library for Poe’s elegant horror story, “The Masque of the Red Death.”
All this moving about of audiences and actors didn’t come easy. Most critical, says Rice, “was to make sure the two scenes upstairs timed out to be the exact same length as the two downstairs,” so that the story flows as it should.
Actors doing a bit of surreptitious traveling between scenes find the house helpful. “There are back staircases, things of that nature,” says Rice. “So we’ve got our little tricks.”
The play, in it’s fourth production since 2006, runs smoothly now. “We’ve got this down pretty solidly,” says Rice, so 2012 audiences won’t be hearing any unscheduled bumps in the night.
It is hoped.