Stage review: Polished readings propel 'Poe's Last Night'

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Edgar Allan Poe's roller-coaster life from orphaned child of an actress to popular writer contained enough melodrama for several penny dreadfuls including his unexplained death in Baltimore at 40 in 1849.

Veteran actor David Crawford has assembled some of the theories of the writer's demise to mount a one-man show at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. His Poe is a confused, paranoid fellow who makes accusations against a mix of "enemies" including an untrustworthy rival, Rufus Griswold.

As the show opens, Poe finds himself unkempt, penniless and delirious in a Charm City dive bar (Steelers fans might sympathize). Although he had family and acquaintances there who offered help, hospitalization failed to save him. Poe was hastily buried without notice to out-of-town friends.

‘Poe’s Last Night’

Where: Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 5 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $20-$30.

Mr. Crawford's script skips lightly over Poe's biography with enough uncertainty to confuse and muddle details of the writer's complicated life, but the real purpose of the play is to perform readings of Poe's best known poetry and prose, including that favorite of recitation exercises, "The Raven."

"Annabelle Lee," "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Cask of Amontillado" round out the brief, two-act production staged on a simple set with shadowy lighting and occasional sound effects intended to make things spooky.

Perhaps Poe's best stories such as "Murders in the Rue Morgue" were too long for Mr. Crawford's plans, so he chose the shorter, floridly intense tales of revenge and escape. His interpretations are polished and dramatic although his segues from Poe's agonies to them are forced.

Mr. Crawford writes in the program that he has been doing versions of "Poe's Last Night" since 2012. While his readings are effective, he appeared uncomfortable in his Poe persona.

The show closes Sunday, the anniversary of Poe's birth. Perhaps as a comment on the writer's rough times in Baltimore, the original memorial to him was chiseled with an incorrect birth date.

Retired Post-Gazette book editor Bob Hoover reviews theater for the newspaper.

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