Matt Conner’s Music and Direction Shine in Haunting “Nevermore” at Creative Cauldron

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By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor

Clockwise from Center: Katherine Riddle as Mother, Jennifer Pagnard as Muddy, Erin Granfield as Elmira, Sara Hurley as Virginia, Stephen Gregory Smith as Edgar Allan Poe, and Mary Kate Brouillet as the Whore in “Nevermore”. Photo Credit: Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Who would have thought that setting 15 of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and short stories to lyrically beautiful music and using that as a jumping off place to tell the fever dream story of his tortured life and loves, could be not only interesting, but romantic, engrossing and thrilling as well? “Certainly not I, Quoth the Raven,” wink, wink. But seriously, I was not expecting to be swept up in thrall to the haunting, lovely melodies written by Matt Conner, with a book by Grace Barnes. But here I am, rethinking and reliving the swiftly moving scant 90 minutes of “Nevermore” and enjoying every moment performed by an extremely talented cast of six accompanied by a small, deliciously powerful orchestra comprised of a piano, violin, and cello led by Jenny Cartney, Music Director.

Twelve years ago I saw Matt’s production of “Nevermore” at Signature Theatre and remember it as being tragic and interesting, but not particularly memorable. However after this, Matt’s third reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s life story (the second one also done with Creative Cauldron), he’s back with a jewel—no, a gem of story! And he’s directing as well!

It all begins with the ingenius set by the brilliant Margie Jervis, who also imagined and constructed the perfect costumes for the various women in Poe’s life (see the accompanying production photograph). The set of a wrecked ship and sail near his writing desk and quill pens (which he uses to write on his various partners’ arms–I’m just reporting–no judgement) appears to me to be a metaphor of the wreck he made of his life through his drinking, womanizing, and other vices he apparently couldn’t or wouldn’t control. Through it all, though, he wrote and wrote and kept on writing his beautiful, and often macabre tales. The lovely, moody lighting by Lynn Joslin points up the oft’ times dark and gloomy aspects of this production, as well as the occasionally happier times.

In the role of a lifetime with this production, Stephen Gregory Smith embodies Poe’s pain and he sings with a sensitivity that is at once appealing and tortured, not unlike Bradley Cooper’s portrayal in his newest film “A Star is Born”, which deals with dissolution, addiction, and the downfall of a brilliant talent. And speaking of talent, we meet five pivotal women in Poe’s life, an exceedingly talented group of women including Sarah Hurley (Virginia), Erin Granfield (Elmira), Jennifer Lyons Pagnard (Muddy), Katherine Riddle (Mother), and Mary Kate Brouillet (Whore).

Sara Hurley as Virginia and Stephen Gregory Smith as Edgar Allan Poe in “Nevermore”. Photo Credit: Keith Waters/Kx Photography

Space prohibits me from expanding on the amazing performances of each of these women in Poe’s orbit, but suffice it to say, each one delivers an award-winning performance. The wedding of Virginia (Poe’s 13 year-old cousin) to Poe is indelible in my consciousness. Virginia’s dress and veil say it all—maidenly and childlike, seemingly hopeful and somewhat self-aware–while covered with virginal gauze and pretty, dainty flowers.

All of the women of “Nevermore” have beautiful voices and the vocal arrangements provided by Connor, written for those voices in various groupings of one, two, three, four, five, or six (when Poe sings with them), are lovely adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe poetry set to serious music and should, no, I expect WILL be sung by individuals and groups for years to come. Boom!

I think you may want to make plans to surprise yourself by experiencing this lovely gem, playing at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church through October 28.

Ticket and Performance Information:

“Nevermore” runs from October 4-28, 2018, at Creative Cauldron, 410 S. Maple Street, Falls Church, VA. 22046. Free parking in the 400 and 410 S. Maple Building Parking Garages.

For tickets or information call 703-436-9948 or click on www.creativecauldron.org.