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By Jane Durrell · June 4th, 2010 · Fringe

Critic's Pick

Is poetry just for English majors? Nevermore says no, that playgoers can tune into iambic verse just fine. (Shakespeare was onto that, too.)

Although writer/director Amy Pettinella plays the feminine role in this two-character piece, she gives the best lines to her co-actor, Russell McGee. No surprise: He’s playing Edgar Allan Poe, no stranger to good lines.

McGee looks marvelously 19th-century with his stringy hair, pouch-y velvet waistcoat beneath black suit jacket and air of distracted melancholy. He delivers his lines with grace and fervor — he spits out “Nevermore!” in a satisfyingly raven-like caw — and moves around the makeshift stage at Gabriel’s Corner as resourcefully as if he really were a wraith.

For a wraith, apparently, is what he is.

He appears at a moment when Pettinella’s character — identified as Woman, although I wish she’d called her Writer as her profession is more important than her gender — has turned to both alcohol and a few pills with lethal possibilities. She has just received the Writer’s Worst Communication: “Your advance is retracted, as you’ve not met your deadline.” She’s in writer’s block mode and turns to those natural friends of stymied writers: alcohol and thoughts of suicide.

We’ve seen Poe in the opening scene, chanting out portions of his own dark poem “Ulalume” and meeting what might have been, must have been — but was it really? — his own demise. The ambiguity surrounding Poe’s actual death is what caught Pettinella into this story line and led her to recognize how often American writers resort to drink and suicide. The names of Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and Sylvia Plath turn up.

Pettinella’s Woman is as definitely “Now” as Poe is “Then.” The thread of literature is their common ground. If you haven’t read Poe recently or are a little shaky on his life, times and habits of drink, Pettinella’s program notes thoughtfully bring you up to speed. Twilight Productions, her Indianapolis-based company, first played Nevermore at Indianapolis’s 2009 Fringe and will take it on to New Orleans and Chicago later this year.

So is this just for English majors? No, but if your idea of Fringe is fun and lots of laughs then this isn’t your Fringe. And if you want to hear poetry spoken well and care to think about where literature comes from — Poe knows, and he tells Woman exactly how to find it — this is your Fringe.

(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)



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