Saturday, October 29, 2016

Following Janus Theatre Company "Into the Dark"

Neither the sports fans, the casual diners, nor even the police knew what was happening below street level Friday night in downtown Elgin. Groups of ten or twelve mystified souls descended dark stairways into unfurnished rooms, to hear tell of fortunes, madness and murders.

That was the premise of "Tales from Poe II: Into the Dark," the latest program of Walkabout: Theater on your Feet, presented by Janus Theatre Company. In each of four acts, a single actor brought to life selected writings by Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer best known for his preoccupation with death.

In the basement under the Blue Box Cafe, Kelly Bolton channeled a clairvoyant from a candle lit Romantic era parlor, paired with the words to the poem "Spirits of the Dead." In another room below Salon Couture, Joe Cattoggio introduced us to the first of three deranged characters with a tense reading of Egaeus, suitor to Poe's Berenice.

From a cell beneath Rediscover Records, Paula Smiech made us believe that murder can be deliberate and rational, though The Tell Tale Heart foiled the perfect crime. And like the opening scene of a Vincent Price film, a jovial Thomas Squires greeted visitors in Side Street Studio Arts Gallery with a glass of wine before ushering them into his cellar by torch light to see The Cask of Amontillado. We didn't expect the tour to end with the reenactment of a murder.

Scenes from The Cask of Amontillado played by Thomas Squires.

Poe's detailed psychological characterizations lend themselves to live delivery, but they are much more than narration — the words, structure and style of the language are essential to each character's personality, defining them more by how they think, than by what they say and do.

Yet we recognize repetition, abrupt changes in mood, dynamics and speech tempo as signs of madness, which Smiech employed to great effect in Tell Tale Heart. And inappropriate laughter seemed perfectly appropriate in Squires' animated protrayal of the murderous Montresor, expanded by skillful improvisations and live action.

As the Father of the Short Story, the power of Poe's writing is in the impressions it forms in readers' minds, and staging this material as a live production is not without risk. But these fine performances directed by Janus' Sean Hargadon prove that in the right hands, Poe's stories can be as effective in an underground theater as they are on a printed page.

The tours continue Saturday Oct. 29th at 2pm and 7pm, and Sunday at 2pm. For complete details, go to janusplays.com