Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.


Also see Susan's review of Two Queens, One Castle

Daniel Cooney and Lauren Williams
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., is presenting the world premiere production of an extraordinary musical that really must be seen to be understood, and perhaps seen more than once. Nevermore uses the words of Edgar Allan Poe, set to music by first-time composer Matt Conner, to provide a window into the feverish soul of the 19th-century author known for his tormented poetry and stories of the macabre.

Director Eric Schaeffer has created a dark, dreamlike world of disembodied hands reaching through the floor, of frenzied encounters with prostitutes and a search for self-realization through self-destruction. In 90 minutes with no intermission and no breaks for applause, Nevermore does not let up for a second; it compels the viewer's complete attention.

The non-realistic setting (Derek McLane is credited as "scenic consultant") suggests a haunted forest of twisted trees with low-hanging branches and a ragged picket fence, all on a rough platform seemingly suspended in air. The specters of this place already drift around the setting as the audience appears: Poe's mother (Florence Lacey), who died when he was a child, all in white with a veil over her face; Elmira (Jacquelyn Piro), his childhood friend and first love, in a sophisticated gown; Virginia (Lauren Williams), his first cousin and child bride, a terrifying blend of innocence and bloody desire; Muddy (Channez McQuay), Poe's aunt and Virginia's mother, a stabilizing presence in the writer's life and his substitute mother; and a Whore (Amy McWilliams) who attempts to soothe his ravaged soul.

Poe himself (Daniel Cooney) staggers into this dim, foggy world (lighting design by Mark Lanks) through a realistic doorway at the rear of the set. The year is 1849; the author is ill, frequently drunk, and close to death — a death whose cause remains mysterious today. Nevermore uses the author's own words to examine his relationships with the women in his life, and their influence on his work.

In Grace Barnes' book, each of the women has a distinct role with relation to Poe. The mother's ghost reacts with displeasure as Poe describes his idealized vision of her, far from the real woman. Elmira, genteel and kind, sees Poe's madness and seeks to bring him comfort. Virginia, whom Poe married when she was 13, has a child's giddy sense of excitement mixed with the perversely sexual thrills she gets from Poe's creepiest stories. Muddy tries to temper the author's moods and save him from himself, while the Whore tries to be whatever he needs her to be.

Conner, ably assisted by Tony Award-winning orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, matches the hallucinatory sense of Poe's words and Schaeffer's direction in his melodies. They are rich, intriguing, yet somehow otherworldly —in short, a vital component of a musical experience that defies description.

The Signature Theatre
January 10th - February 26th
Book by Grace Barnes
Music by Matt Conner
Lyrics adapted from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar: Daniel Cooney
Mother: Florence Lacey
Muddy: Channez McQuay
A Whore: Amy McWilliams
Elmira: Jacquelyn Piro
Virginia: Lauren Williams
Direction and musical staging by Eric Schaeffer
Music direction by Jenny Cartney
3806 S. Four Mile Run Drive
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-218-6500 or 1-800-955-5566 or

Photo: Carol Pratt

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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