Edgar Allan Poe was brought to life at a recent performance at Torn Page, the intimate space located in West 22nd Street brownstone of legendary actors Rip Torn and Geraldine Page. The 55-minute play was a little bit whimsical, a little bit macabre, probably a little like Edgar himself. Performed by Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan, we meet two Edgar Allans, dressed alike in a gothic black suit of the times with white ruffled shirt, but so unlike in personality. Yes, there are two Edgars on stage. Who is who? Who is the real one? Who is the alter ego? Questions. Questions.
Though set at an English boarding school, we hear in Hartman’s intro song that Edgar is looking back to his first encounter with his dark side. The bare stage with only a few props and mood lighting tells the story of an 11-year-old Edgar embarking on his first school day, looking to set himself apart from the other boys. He had quite the ego, it seems, at this tender young age. But, what to his surprise does he find? Another Edgar, played by Ryan, who comes across as a kinder, gentler Edgar. As their friendship develops, one Edgar becomes disenchanted at the new-found friend, Edgar, and as with stories of the macabre, things go somewhat awry. But no spoilers here.
Katie Hartman as Edgar Allan
What Hartman and Ryan have done is piece together a variety of talents and interests. Drawn to tales of horror, they began researching the father of the genre, and came upon Poe’s short story, “William Wilson.” What if it was retold as if the boy in the story was, in fact, Edgar himself, with the occasional song played by Hartman as we hear what’s going on in Edgar’s mind. At the conclusion, the audience is left with a lot of food for thought. Could the actions in Poe’s fictional story be more autobiographical, providing a glimpse into the beginnings of the tortured soul he’d become? Again, more questions.
The theatre space at Torn Page is really a high-ceilinged living room with 25 folding chairs set against one side. That leaves the actors about two-thirds of the room to perform and bring the audience into Poe’s world: a stifling boarding school, a Latin class, a midnight rendezvous on school grounds sharing alcoholic swigs from a flask. In a sweet moment of comraderies, the two Edgars form a club where they take the spirit of an animal: Hartman’s Edgar takes the ominous black crow, and Ryan’s Edgar takes the wise owl. They alternate with laughable “caw-caws” and “hoots” as their last dose of innocence dissipates as the tale turns dark. Hartman and Ryan disappear in their Edgars and it all works beautifully.
The duo are presently at work fine-tuning a Act II called Eddie Poe, which takes us to the University of Virginia where he’s described as a “brooding, lonely genius.” Frankly, I can’t wait for that.
Brooklyn-based Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan formed The Coldharts, a touring company which creates musical theatre inspired by the American gothic genre and are founding members of the Twin Cities Horror Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota. To see their upcoming schedule, visit the website for the Coldharts.
This work was part of the so-fi winter mini-festival of independent theatre. Visit the website for so-fi-festival for future festivals.
For Torn Page Performance Space information, visit Torn Page.
Photos by Dan Norman
Top: Dan Norman, Katie Hartman (foreground) as Edgar Allan, Nick Ryan (background) as Edgar Allan