THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Hours of Life’ at Seattle’s Theatre 22
REVIEW BY LEE DAVID
THE HOURS OF LIFE is the new musical about Poe that had its world premiere in Seattle at the Cornish Studio Theatre on December 5, 2014. The Theatre 22 production was written by Paul Lewis and directed by Corey D. McDaniel.
The show opens with cast members filling the stage in song, all dressed in beautifully tailored period costumes. The intimate feel of the 100-seat theater was immediately felt with the characters literally standing at your side. After the rousing finale of the first of 17 songs, the ensemble disperses and the play gently unfolds.
There are two main story lines in this production that intertwine flawlessly. The character of Edgar Allan Poe was portrayed by Brian Pucheu who, although he starts off the play rather meekly, thankfully progresses into the type of Poe character that I had expected; strong and charismatic.
In the first story-line, Poe witnesses a theatrical show put on by a circus-like ring master, Maezel (Michael Ramquist), who is traveling the world with his magical chess playing automaton-type man, that Maezel wheels on stage in a small box. The audience believes that the automaton is able to come to life and respond like to like with chess moves that Maezel puts into play, and they are truly astounded when the magical being actually moves a chess piece seemingly on its own. Poe, however, is skeptical and loudly voices his opinion that it's a hoax. From that day on, Maezel is determined to destroy Poe for tarnishing his repetition. We soon discover, however, that Poe's skepticism is well-founded, as inside the box we meet Schlumberger (Victor Matlock), a dwarf that Maezel had rescued from the circus, and who secretly operates the mechanical chess player . Victor gives a rousing performance as Schlumberger and cleverly encompasses the attributes of his abused character. Unfortunately, Michael Ramquist's Maezel character, although broadly acted, was hard to understand as his German accent was garbled throughout.
The second story line follows the loving marriage of Poe to Virginia 'Sissy' Poe (Sara Trowbridge), through to her untimely death due to consumption. Virginia’s death scene was quite brilliant and left me with tears in my eyes. During the production, Poe meets an avid admirer of his work, Sarah 'Helen' Whitman (Meg McLynn) and it's Meg's beautifully acted portrayal of Sarah's character that truly brings this production to greatness. Following Sissy's death, Poe and Sarah fall in love, Poe proposes, and Sarah agrees to the marriage under the condition that Poe give up drinking --which non-hesitantly, he agrees to. However, before the marriage takes place, Maezel discovers Poe at an Inn, drugs him and forces Poe into a drunken stupor. Sadly, when it seems thatPoe did not keep his promise, Sarah ends the relationship and Poe's loneliness and depression lead to his final demise.
After four years in development, including an IndieGoGo campaign for this production, we hope that “The Hours of Life” have many more hours of life on stages across the country in the future.
World Premiere of “The Hours of Life”
Book, Music and Lyrics by Paul Lewis
Directed by Corey McDaniel
Musical Direction by Julia Thornton
The show continues at the Cornish Studio Theatre (at the Cornish Playhouse - formerly the Intiman Theatre), 201 Mercer St. on Friday, 12/12 @ 8 p.m., Saturday, 12/13 @ 2 p.m. & @ 8 p.m., Sunday, 12/14 @ 2 p.m. Tickets: $22-general; $14-senior/military/student; $11-TPS members. $5 minimum pay-what-you-can performances on 12/13 & 12/14 matinees. Tickets available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/858076 and at the door. For more information, visit www.theatre22.org.