One of the pleasures of a Fringe Festival is being able to see interesting and original theatre that is so non-commercial that it otherwise might never see the light of day. Such a pleasure is Edgar Allan, a wildly creative play presented by The Coldharts and its founders, Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan (the same pair who brought the hugely successful Legend of White Woman Creek to the 2014 Fringe).
While it’s never exactly stated, the play is at one level a reverential nod to the youth and works of Edgar Allan Poe. Yet it’s much more than just a vehicle to throw a lot of references out there for effect. Instead, we’re immediately drawn in by Hartman, highly charged as 11-year-old Edgar Allan, a boy preparing for conquests and glory at a new boarding school. Hartman mines tremendous humor from her physicality, a vocal delivery that is all intense, earnest sibilants and several songs, which she sings to her own ukulele accompaniment. It sounds odd and a little ridiculous —and it actually is both of those things. Yet her performance is so committed and genuine that the play’s action is elevated into something else, if not one of Poe’s allegories, then at least something completely engaging.
And then we have Ryan, Edgar Allan’s alter ego (another of Poe’s themes), quiet and still where Hartman is manic, whispered and soft where Hartman is loud, mirroring Edgar in some ways while being profoundly different in others. It’s too simple to say that Ryan provides much of the play’s humor; it’s more the case that these two actors together have found just the right balanced tone to allow some lighter moments while not losing sight of the evening’s darker, more ominous themes.
There is only a single set piece (a suggested doorway), but it has an important function toward the play’s conclusion. The lighting available at the Know was used to good effect, and a special nod should go to the costumes and hairstyles of the two actors, again almost in mirror image, but made subtly different by the actors themselves.
There are lots of allusions to Poe and his themes (“The Cask of Amontillado”, “The Black Cat” and “The Raven” make cameo appearances in various degrees. Hartman and Ryan also get a lot of the history right regarding Poe’s childhood. But their production was not at all gimmicky; the light moments and the music were all a set-up for something much deeper. I suspect that Poe would have approved of this play and the considerable skill of these two artists. It’s really a unique experience, not to be missed.
Ed Cohen is a freelance director, with much of his recent work with CCM, NKU and small professional theatres around town. In his parallel life, his is a trial attorney in downtown Cincinnati.