A Poe Cabaret at LuminaTO festival

Luminato 2009: Poe-faced Cabaret at Buddies

A Poe Cabaret: A Dream Within a Dream has the potential to be something really exciting, but it falls short despite its best intentions.

Take the written works of Edgar Allen Poe, add a handful of talented musicians and set it all in an intimate setting like Buddies in Bad Times theatre. Sounds like the recipe for artistic success.

But I was bored to tears by the static stage presence of the actor/singers in this production. While the voices were strong and songs were technically well sung -- especially in the Canadian premiere of librettist Mark Campbell and composer Lance Horne's opera, The Tell-Tale Heart, featuring Sean Clark (tenor) and Horne on piano -- I didn't feel moved by much of it.

We had an amusing clown-like host of sorts, played by Mike Ross. But he didn't really engage the audience like I'd expect in a true cabaret. The material had lots of possibility in this interpretation of Poe's words, but I felt that this Lorenzo Savoini directed show didn't reach far or deep enough.

The dramatic reading of The Raven, read by CBC's Tom Allen fell flat.

Aside from a few instrumental flourishes by the capable Penderecki String Quartet, with the addition of harpist Lori Gemmell among the usual cello, viola and two violins. Perhaps Allen would do well to read the piece on the radio, but on stage they could've got a real actor for the part.

A subtle change in stage lighting while we get to hear the poem, read by a man sitting still on a stool in the centre of the stage, lost my interest after the first page of text. But it went on and on for what seemed like forever. Like a bad dream. Maybe that was the intention.

The highlight of the show for me was when we got to see silhouettes of two figures behind a scrim with light shone through it, revealing a most brutal stabbing. Then, as the curtain was drawn, it revealed a beautifully dressed young woman in fishnets, corset and heels, surviving the act only to sing beautifully about it.

The evening ended with a wonderfully orchestrated musical number by the same string quintet, eliciting the only emotional response in me from the entire 90-minute show.

I'm hoping that Catalyst Theatre offers a better take on Poe with their Nevermore.

A Poe Cabaret has one final performance tonight at 9 p.m. at Buddies. Tickets $45. General admission with cabaret-style seating. A licensed event.

Photos courtesy Luminato.

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