“I’m descending into madness a little bit,” says Tony Dingman. He laughs and grasps his head for effect.
He’s midway through rehearsing a piece for “An Evening with Poe,” presented by The Frazier History Museum, which opens tonight.
He says he could be talking as much about his character for “MS. Found in a Bottle” or the insanity that comes with being in the final hours before opening night.
As he starts his monologue again, he’s joined by fellow actors and collaborators Mick Sullivan, Kelly Moore and Eric Frantz, who provide the haunting musical accompaniment, a score that moves from the rhythmic sounds of the sea surrounding Dingman’s captain to dissonance and chaos as his mind drowns.
Like much of Poe’s work, there may be madness, but there is always a method.
“That’s what we’re trying to capture,” says Dingman. “That feeling of sanity slipping away.”
Which is what makes Poe the perfect Halloween venture. Those things that go bump in the night are not half as scary as what’s living in our heads. Or at least the heads of many a Poe protagonist.
“Right,” says Dingman. “This is about a man whose journey did not end the way he had hoped. It’s one misfortune after another, as a lot of Poe stories are, and the effect that has on his mind.”
It’s a new work for the series, now in its fourth year, and one of Poe’s lesser-known stories. Dingman says that sense of discovery is important, offering some items buried deeper in Poe’s catalog alongside perennial favorites, as well as refreshing the series each year with new material.
“Poe was so prolific but we really only think of 10 or 12 pieces. Not unlike Shakespeare in that way. Everyone knows the big ones, like Hamlet, but not as many know something like Richard II. With Poe, everyone knows something like “The Raven;” not so much something like “Dream-Land,” which is also new this year.”
But what’s most interesting here is the way the pieces are handled. This is no simple recital; these are adapted as live theatre, with each piece getting its own treatment and interpretation.
Some operate as short plays, others oral storytelling, while another is set to music by the Tamerlane Trio. The trio, comprised of Amber Estes Thieneman, Mick Sullivan and Rob Collier, also provide music throughout the night, serving as a palate cleanser in between each piece, playing Apalachian music contemporary to the time of Poe’s writing.
A cash bar is available before the show starts and at intermission for another kind of palate cleanser.
Though “An Evening with Poe” may have started as Dingman’s brainchild, he emphasizes repeatedly that this is a team effort.
“I can’t stress enough how much of an ensemble piece this is. The first year, by necessity, it needed someone to say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ So yes, the general direction and inception might be mine, but it’s evolved so much since then. Everyone has ideas they’re bringing in.”
That’s on display here at rehearsal. The music behind “MS Found in a Bottle” sounds fantastic, but isn’t quite syncing up how they’d like, and all four creators hop in with different potential solutions, and each solution gets tested until all are comfortable.
A methodical madness of its own.
The Frazier Museum presents “An Evening with Poe” runs Oct. 22-27, 29, 30, 31 and Nov. 1 & 2. Doors open at 6:30 and performances begin at 7:30 p.m., except October 23 and 30; performances begin at 8 p.m. for those two nights. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the Museum (829 W. Main St.).
Featured works include: “Dream-Land,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Raven,” “The Bells,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “MS Found in a Bottle,” “The Fall of the House of Usher, and “Dream Within a Dream” (a song by the Tamerlane Trio).
Be advised: there are tickets available, but they go fast, so it’s a really good idea to get them in advance. Friday and Saturday, for instance, are sold out.