Review: Edgar’s Emoticons: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe at the Overtime Theater

Derek Berlin as Edgar Allen Poe. (Photo by Jade Esteban Estrada)

Derek Berlin as Edgar Allen Poe. (Photo by Jade Esteban Estrada)

July 28, 2019 - Bandera and 410

Article By: Jade Esteban Estrada - Writer, SA Sentinel

An icon of literary pop culture whose words continue to find readership in the Digital Age was on display this month in Derek Berlin's new solo show, An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, at the Overtime Theater.

With a long list of published works that include such reads as The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher, Poe's mastery could be compared to the genius of such suspense-driven litterateurs as Mary Shelley and Stephen King. So precise was Poe's analysis of his characters' scheming methods, he's also been credited as the inventor of the modern detective story. It's been the unfortunate events of his personal life, however, that have captured the attention of his devotees just as much as his hair-raising bedtime stories, which are now in the public domain.

Born to traveling actors in 1809, Poe's misfortune began when he was orphaned at the age of three. Though his ailing stepmother was kind and loving, his stepfather, who rejected him, would later exclude Poe from his will. The early death of Poe's wife, Virginia, was more fodder for his melancholy themes.

Set in purgatory, An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe captured the cresting milestones of the poet's interrupted life. Smartly dressed in Rose Kennedy’s early 19th century garb, the seasoned Berlin entered from upstage left and, as his first order of business, immediately broke the fourth wall. With quivering inflections, Poe shares the greatest hits of his unhappy life with the anxiousness of an artist who has much to say but knows, perhaps instinctively, that he will not have enough time to say it. For the next hour and a half, through reddened eyes, theatricalized by circular eye shadowing, the moustached incarnation came to life in a discontented, fiery rage.

Sitting in the first row with a box of popcorn on my lap, a thought occurred to me. Berlin seems to understand his artistic capital. As I couple this visual experience with my knowledge of his previous plays (The Garden Poem - which included monologues that, at times, reminded me of William Shakespeare's Hamlet and My Name Was Dorian...Dorian Gray - an award-winning play I did not see), I realize that his work isn't individually that of an actor, playwright, director or producer but, in fact, an enterprising combination of all these roles. Arguably, a hallmark of his offerings could be his choice to only craft content that would allow him to play his own leading man. The very nature of this manner of working makes for an inherently raw performance. Like Harry Houdini himself, what audiences might find most alluring is the opportunity to see this eclectic take on a feat few performers would endeavor.

“A writer of great value, but sadly, a man of no worth,” he utters, staring at his own coffin. Under the rich glow of Chuck Drew's exquisite lighting design, Poe spreads his arms out, invoking the symbolism of a Christlike figure. When the light returned to the darkened room, audience members rose to their feet in appreciation of the two gifted men.

Though separated by time, Berlin exercised his privilege of flesh and will to lend a voice to a man whose life ended way too soon. 

An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe

Dates: July 5-27, 2019

Venue: Overtime Theater

Written and directed by: Derek Berlin

Composer and Music Production: Brian Henderson

Assistant Director: Whitney Marlett

Costume Designer: Rose Kennedy

Set Design: Derek Berlin

Stage Manager: Nicole Tovar

Lighting Design: Chuck Drew