Posted 11/28/14

Preternatural Pathos & Loving a Ghost


Nevermore Boston PosterDeep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

-Edgar Allan Poe


Crash, smash, bang, boom! Suddenly there he was sprawled on the floor less than eight feet away between the left hand side of the stage and me. The well dressed lovely blonde-haired woman who sat in the seat next to me at my left hand was clearly startled with surprise and concern, as was I also, reacted and began to instinctively rise from her seat to assist Edgar Allan Poe who had just taken a dramatic startling sudden drunken fall off the stage onto the floor right in front of us. Halfway up off her seat she just as quickly sat back down watching intently and carefully the man on floor in front of us drunkenly picking himself up the spotlight now shining fully gently upon him, for she, like me, remembered that we were at a one man play in a theater and that the seemingly violent uncontrolled fall from the stage to the floor was a planned part of the show, maybe, probably, hopefully, for we the audience had clearly fallen under the spell of the sublime and supreme performance of the actor Jeffery Combs, as he brought Edgar Allan Poe to life, for all of us present that Halloween night in the Somerville Theater. I watched him, carefully noting the red gash that ran diagonally down across his nose and the dazed and pained expression upon his face. This is part of the show or is it I said to myself, as I felt real concern at that very moment, for it had happened so quickly and realistically. I had truly forgotten that the man before me was an actor who was fully in the moment in his element. I genuinely wondered if he saw any of us who had been sitting in the audience for about an hour at that point in time, as he stood unsteadily looking before him right through all of us, for my part, as an audience member the only person who I could see and hear was the man who had fallen from the stage and as far as I was concerned he was Edgar Allan Poe.

Produced by Izzy Lee and Bryan Moore along with co-producer Mark Redfield, NEVERMORE: AN EVENING WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE is a one man performance starring actor Jeffery Combs that was performed before a full house at the Somerville Theater, located about eight miles north of Boston, Massachusetts this past Halloween night October 30, 2014, and was directed by Stuart Gordon and written by Dennis Paoli. I had ultimately come to attend the show by way of a prior event which had taken place the previous evening that was directly related to the production, the unveiling of a bronze bust statue masterfully crafted by Artisan Bryan Moore via a Kickstarter project he had managed which resulted in the bust being gifted to and dedicated with ceremony at the Boston Public Library.

Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe
Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe in Nevermore

I had arrived in Cambridge Thursday afternoon a few hours before the bronze bust ceremony having been one of the Poe Bust project contributors. Checking into the historic Mary Prentiss Bed & Breakfast Inn to stay, for two nights so that I could attend both the bust unveiling ceremony and the NEVERMORE show I was very fortunate to be able to meet Bryan, Izzy, Jeffery, and Mark and secure what ultimately turned out to be the best seat, for experiencing and viewing the powerful and enrapturing performance of actor Jeffery Combs.  I arrived at the theater fashionably on-time, that is to say barely on-time public transit never has or will operate around my personal schedule, and was greeted warmly by Izzy, Mark, and Bryan in the lobby. After a quick round of handshakes and confirmation that a select seat had been saved, for me (I have a severe hearing loss and wear two hearing-aids and was greatly helped by being seated in a front row seat that was directly placed in an optimum acoustical position that helped me to hear, as much as possible) Bryan graciously escorted me to my seat and with a smile of delight intriguingly told me that I was about to sit in the best seat in the house that night, which, for me it did turn out to be.

As I took my seat I looked around and saw that the theater was full. The air was almost electric with anticipation of the show to come. Within a few moments after I arrived the lights began to dim and a beautiful hauntingly melancholic score of music quietly silenced the audience and floated throughout the air, as the lights dimmed into darkness. Then after a moment the form of a man on the stage became distinguishable. The man slowly and deliberately lights a single candle in a hand held holder. Gentle stage lighting accompanies the candle lighting and the stage is visible, the master has arrived. In the opening moments it immediately becomes apparent to me that actor Jeffery Combs the man I had met the evening before had transformed himself into the subject of the evening’s performance Edgar Allan Poe. As he begins to speak taking a hardcover book in hand which he opens to read from a small pressed dried white flower falls lightly from the tome down onto the floor. The poet is silenced by the fall of the flower and he stands transfixed staring down at it his face and body speaking louder than any human voice could ever hope to achieve. The depths of pain that can only come from an irreplaceable loss radiate from Mr. Combs and, for me set the subtlest of undertones which would punctuate and define the whole of the show to follow.  Following the script and speaking to his audience, as Edgar Allan Poe Mr. Combs begins a number of recitations starting with Spirits of the Dead after which he soon regales us with a marvelous presentation of Alone. The script between the recitations and readings, as they are portrayed, is a delightful blend of superb wit and humor coupled with revealing monologues that show us the audience a remarkably complex and at times frustrated man who has not received his proper due, at that time in history, from the society and world he lived in. It is with the introduction of a bottle of strong spirits we are introduced to an aspect of the man being portrayed that we begin to see his weaknesses and how easily the follies of his problem with alcoholic liquor could undermine any upward mobility socially he might have been striving towards. It is also at this point that the audience is thoroughly enraptured with the performance of The Tell Tale heart. The emotion and power of Poe’s words truly begin to ascend and descend before us with a preternatural pathos that captivates me and causes me to forget that I am sitting in a theater in the year 2014, but rather I have been transported back to the year 1848 one year after his beloved wife’s death and one year before his own death.  Continuing with the show Mr. Combs takes us into his bosom with splendid oratorical renderings of To Helen, The Bells, and Annabel Lee.

Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe
Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe in Nevermore

It is about at this point in the performance that the despondent soul of Poe inebriated with drink and sorrowful pain that the great fall from the stage of a man who would be great takes place. It is not just a drunken fall of man, but rather it is a fall of a man from the desire to remain in the physical world while he remains helplessly, willingly in love with a ghost, his Annabel Lee.  With his return to the stage after a brief encounter off-stage with a brief white light depicting the spirit world while in his delirious state of mind, Master Poe regains his sobriety and senses and brings us back in time to his notable beginnings of notoriety with a marvelous rendition of the show’s signature poem The Raven. The lone candle which has been burning alone on the single table set on the stage is nearly burned all the way down. The man presented to us, as Edgar Allan Poe speaks to us a little more and then closes the performance with the most perfectly fitting selected poem of A Dream Within a Dream, then with the dignity, solemnity, and confidence of a master our Mr. Poe, for that evening, Mr. Jeffery Combs blows out the candle as it reaches its very end. Darkness comes upon the theater and then the audience rises as one with a standing ovation that echoes loudly enough to be heard in the spirit world.

It has been almost one month now since the show and I still find myself thinking about the performance I witnessed. I am wondering when I will be able to see the show again. If you have had the patience and interest enough to read what I have written here then you are in all likelihood someone who might truly be interested in taking any opportunity you might have to see the show, should it be anywhere near you anytime in the future. If you have enjoyed reading any of Edgar Allan Poe’s writings I would strongly advise you to go and see the marvelous Jeffery Combs give a performance of a lifetime which you certainly will not soon forget.


Robert J. Rei currently lives in Fall River, Massachusetts with his three young adult sons. He is the 2010 First Prize winner of the Bristol Community College Fifth Annual Rhoda Sheehan Student Poetry Contest with his poem My Essence (V2). He is a writer of nearly 100 poems which are unpublished in print form at this time. He has spent the past seven years, as a part-time student at Bristol Community College (AA 2013) and recently at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is currently taking a break from his educational pursuits and investigating having his poems published in print.