Under the aegis of Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, New York, Writer/ Director Will Pomerantz has mounted three contemporary takes on Edgar Allan Poe stories with innovative technology that comes as close as we’ve seen to “placing” separately sequestered actors in the same faux space (without a green screen).
Story One: A Case of Romanee Conti based on A Cask of Amontillado
(Romanée-Conti is a certification and Grand Cru vineyard for red wine from the Cote de Nuits area of Burgundy, France. Among the most sought after and expensive in the world, bottles can sell for $10,000.) The tale has been moved from 19th Century Venice to 20th Century Napa Valley.
Successful tech mogul and wine connoisseur Roger Sloan (Daniel Gerroll) is in the tasting room at California winery when he’s amiably approached by Charlie Becker (Ari Brand). The young man was an employee of Sloan’s multi-platform tech company Aphrodite before leaving to start his own now prosperous firm, Oligas (the Greek word for horse). Sloan has no recollection of Becker.
As an investment, Becker’s bought a case of a extremely expensive wine. He’s heard the vintage may not be worth speculation and without the palate to judge, deferentially asks Sloan whether he’d be interested in tasting it. Sloan agrees.
Becker arrives at Sloan’s enormous house and is led to a well-appointed, secure, cellar wine room. When he hands Sloan the bottle you almost see the latter accept it across screens. The Romanée-Conti is decanted and let breathe. (Music, otherwise quite good, makes the mistake of being cheery here.) The men toast, but Becker doesn’t drink.
What follows is the history behind Becker and Sloan, one vengeful, the other oblivious; sympathetic reasons, meticulous research, and retribution. Details are engrossing, connections with mythology inspired. (Love the final image.)
Daniel Gerroll is credibly sophisticated and judgmental. His Sloan is one of those men who lives on a different plane than mere mortals. Attitude is just right, facial expressions memorable. Ari Brand is a find. Like Sloan, we at first buy Becker’s approach, and are then riveted to specifics of his plan. One can practically see the character’s brain processing. As the situation evolves, Becker’s presence seems to inflate with purpose and satisfaction.
Story Two: Through My Flesh based on Ligeia
(Ligeia was one of 6 sirens in Greek Mythology.)
Sam (Loren Lester), a retiring professor of Comparative Religion (a nobleman in the original story) and Fred (Chauncy Thomas), a graduate student becoming a junior faculty member, are drinking and conversing at a vodka bar in a college community. The older man grows loquacious. He tells Fred that many years ago his dissertation on 13th Century Kabala took him to Turkey for research. At an ancient Ottoman library (we see it), he met a beautiful, intense woman named Ligeia (Teal Wicks) writing about Sufism. They had mystical connection.
Months passed together. Ligeia was taken ill. On her deathbed, she swore (and made him swear) he’d never love another woman. “But you were married,” Fred says. In fact, having heard so much about that period of Sam’s life, his subsequent British wife (Teal Wicks) insisted on honey mooning in Turkey. It turned out that Ligeia was not about to share.
Religious allusions and poetry quotes make this a more interesting tale than it is at face value. Visuals are evocative. Loren Lester is just a tad low key; Chauncy Thomas unfocused. Both actors, but especially Thomas, seem to be reading. Only Wicks comes off as entirely in the moment playing both women – changing wigs, accents and demeanor.
Story Three: 812 East 9th Street based on The Fall of The House of Usher
The English manor house becomes an East Village brownstone.
Toby (Michael Levi Harris) sets up his phone/camera in a stairwell (why?). Horribly shaken, he’s been up all night and feels a need to document his experience. The evening before, he received a text from Philip (Kevin Orton), a boarding school friend Toby had neither heard from nor seen for ten years. The urgent request said come NOW. The house looked close to ruins. A key was tossed down.
Assuming Toby had followed through with his plan to become a doctor, Philip reached out for discrete medical help. His “partly cataleptic”? twin Edwina was wasting away. Toby is talked into spending the night, but pressed into doing considerably more before he flees. Did Edwina die? Was she buried? Does the house still stand after what seemed like an other- worldly tornado? What did Toby really see?
Because the protagonist tells his tale to a camera much of the time, facing forward works (looking down does not). Michael Levi Harris creates palpable fear and anxiety. Kevin Orton is believably, rather gracefully sinister. Teal Wicks is a costumed presence. (A slip in continuity finds Edwina in bloody disarray in one scene and wiped clean in the next.)
Well chosen, atmospheric backgrounds sometimes blur slightly-perfectly apt with these eerie tales. The director has however chosen not to have actors face one another as they speak, but instead look out as if the other person is in front of them. In my opinion, they should have at least occasionally turned.
Streaming at baystreet.org under events until October 31 for $20.
All photos courtesy of the theater
Bay Street Theater is experimenting with new technology, paving the way for theatrical solutions to pandemic restrictions. A mixed bag, the program is definitely intriguing.
Bay Street Theater is a not-for-profit 299-seat professional regional theater situated on the Long Wharf, in Sag Harbor, New York. Many productions that premiered or were developed here moved to Broadway, Off-Broadway, regionally and abroad. Bay is considered ” …one of the Country’s pre-eminent regional theatres” ( CBS Sunday Morning )
Artistic Director- Scott Schwartz
Associate Artistic Director- Will Pomerantz
Music Scoring Will Pomerantz
Designer/Editor/Special Effects- Mike Billings
They’re working on MOBY DICK!