This eloquent amalgamation of Eastern European Action Theater, comic relief and Edgar Allan Poe’s (Ean Sheehy) unique story creates a fluent depiction of an opaque history. Red Eye to Havre de Grace, which came to the Hop on April 1 & 2, follows the concluding days of Poe’s life as he tries to return to New York City before returning to Richmond, Virginia, to marry his fiancé. Along the way Poe tries to pivot away from his older works such as The Raven to newer more important works — important to him — such as Eureka. This more or less represents Poe’s individual struggle between tradition and modernity in the “fast paced” mid-19th century.
Beginning in Philly, Poe faces two foils throughout the play: First is the commoner (Jeremy Wilhelm) represented at various times as a contemporary — and quite hilarious — park ranger, and at others as a innkeeper, doctor or voice of practicality opposite Poe’s growing insanity; second is the source of the insanity, according to director, Thaddeus Phillips, his late wife (Alessandra Larson), who returns to haunt Poe’s mind. The commoner provides comic relief, soaring vocals and consistent commentary on Poe’s actual life. He also plays off of Poe’s fetish for tradition and deep thought, by embracing modernity and the most comment sense possible.
Poe’s late wife plays a more debilitating role, as the production uses set design, dazzling displays of dexterity and chilling silence to chart a path through the fissures in Poe’s mind. On stage this was depicted as climbing, hanging, dancing and general mischief throughout the physical representation of Poe’s mind. In this representation doors quickly become tables, desks, beds, platforms and trains.
The final piece that brought the whole play together was the rich integration of Poe’s actual poetry, letters and works through songs, dance numbers and more. This material provided a medium for the juxtaposition between comic relief and the manic depression created by Poe’s slide from sanity. In many instances Poe tries to discuss his new particle theories, while the commoners just want to hear The Raven. His reluctant recitation devolves into a fearful diatribe. In other instances, the director takes liberties with Poe’s condition to change characters between time periods, physical settings and topics of conversation, which would make no sense in any other play.
Red Eye to Havre de Grace draws a line between sanity and insanity, riding it from open to close. At some points the work loses sight of itself, like during a sudden Neil Diamond song in the middle of the second act. However, by and large the piece succeeds in its difficult balancing act mostly because of the premise of Poe losing his mind, and the deft use of Poe materials to enrich the experience. Fans of Inception and Nolan-esque work should remember the play Red Eye to Havre de Grace and the name Thaddeus Phillips.