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“POEtry” in Motion: Porterfield Ensemble Premieres new work about Poe for 2016 tour
by Wesley Young
“Once upon a midnight dreary…”
So begins what many hail as the greatest American poem. The familiar strains of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” will fill Radford University’s Pridemore Playhouse as Porterfield Ensemble presents the premiere of “Poe: Dark Genius, Troubled Life” October 27 and 28.
Porterfield Ensemble is a touring arm of the Department of Theatre and Cinema. The ensemble is a class whose mission is taking theatre to high schools and middle schools in the region. This year’s offering is a new work authored by Ensemble Director Wesley Young and devised, in part, by the ensemble.
The play journeys into the mind of one of America’s most fascinating and controversial writers. Beginning as his beloved wife fights for her life, the play shows Poe beset by doubt and despair. The melodious poetry and references to the famous stories provide a haunting thread throughout as he reflects on his often tumultuous life. Though Boston-born Poe considered himself a Southern gentleman, he grew up in Richmond. This piece highlights the Virginia connection as well as his pride at being a Southern writer. The mercurial Poe was celebrated in his lifetime but never financially secure. He only ever earned ten dollars for his most famous poem about the titular ebony bird. Following his wife’s death, he struggled to rekindle a romance with a childhood sweetheart in Richmond. But before he could marry her he died under notoriously mysterious circumstances in Baltimore at only 40 years old.
“Poe devotees will have fun picking out the many quotations and references to his works and those less familiar with him will hopefully leave wanting to know more about the famous writer,” Young said. “And there might even be some old-fashioned spooky stuff.”
Before the on-campus performances on Oct. 27 and 28, the ensemble will open on the road at James River High School in Buchanan, Virginia. Over the weeks to come the group presents from Galax to Rockbridge County and points in between.
In addition to cultural outreach and getting the Radford University name in front of prospective students, the experience provides a valuable glimpse of the life of touring theatre for the theatre students involved. Porterfield Ensemble 2016 members are Kate Baltes of Reston, Drew Callahan of Virginia Beach, Rebecca Haas of Manassas, Danielle Hankerson of Virginia Beach, Mac McMullen of Midlothian, Christopher Phillips of Pulaski, Rebecca Redifer of Virginia Beach and Megan Ward of Rocky Mount.
“I’m very excited to be touring with this show,” actor McMullen said. “Being such a big part of the development of this production helps me connect more deeply with the play.”
The show starts at 7:30 p.m. both evenings in the Pridemore Playhouse in Porterfield Hall. Tickets are $5 for general admission, Radford University faculty and staff, and are free for Radford University students with an id. Tickets are available at rutheatretickets.com or during the week of the show at the Porterfield Box Office or by calling 540-831-5289. The Box Office is open from noon to 6 p.m. during show week.