The Coldharts have developed quite a following among the Cincy Fringe crowd. Eddie Poe is, in fact, their fourth offering here, following the much admired Legend of White Woman Creek, Edgar Allan and, most recently, the brilliant and crazed Unrepentant Necrophile. That meant a packed house for the Saturday opening performance at Know Theatre of their latest piece, Eddie Poe. It was tough to tell what the audience expected, but I suspect this one was a bit of a surprise.
I say that not because it wasn’t creatively composed and performed. The Coldharts are two actors, Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan, based in Brooklyn, and Eddie Poe struck some of their familiar tropes: actors playing multiple characters and genders and the unexpected and evocative use of live music played by the actors (no one has ever used a ukulele so effectively in a play as Hartman seems to do regularly). The sheer theatricality of their work demands attention.
But what made Eddie Poe a bit different was the realization that it not only was a sequel to Edgar Allan and the second part of a trilogy (the actors told us that at the end), but that in this piece, the actual reflections of Poe’s life seem much more direct, such that the two plays together (and hopefully the finale to come) are an actual biography of Edgar Allan Poe, told through their uniquely twisted lens, but still telling Poe’s story.
They get much of the history right: Poe’s youthful romance with Elmira Royster; his early enrollment at the University of Virginia; his partial disownment by his guardian, John Allan; and his constant struggles with demons that haunted him for the rest of his life. They’ve figured out highly theatrical ways to present the story, most of them involving Hartman stepping in and out of many of the key characters, including Poe’s alter-ego/evil twin (another favorite theme of the legendary writer). But it struck me that, this time, despite the bells and whistles, they were mainly telling the story. Unlike The Unrepentant Necrophile, which was all form, Eddie Poe is all substance.
That’s not to say that it isn’t told with The Coldharts’ usual creativity. The staging was simple, but moved the story and set up its conflicts. They used some tricks (such as UV light) to raise the drama in a scene. Some characters were told very broadly. Ryan was the focus of this installment, whereas Hartman dominated Edgar Allan. At the end, I was left wanting more. (One departing audience member pondered whether this was The Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers.)
I’m not saying that Eddie Poe is a lesser achievement for them or that it’s not worth seeing. To the contrary, it is in many ways their most mature work, more thoughtful and with a broader scope than their previous shows. The Coldharts deserve their rabid following, and Eddie Poe reminds us of their talent and creativity. Don’t miss it.
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 10. Find showtimes, tickets and more info here.