by Matthew Windham
Tales from Poe has gone through many iterations over the years. For myself and the rest of the new Acting Fellows, it became clear to us almost as soon as we looked at the scripts from previous productions, that it would be the most satisfying for us create our own new adaptation of Poe’s works that was tailored to our particular ensemble. Thankfully, the Hedgerow Acting Fellowship gives us room to nurture many parts of our creative personalities, and Jared Reed was quick to encourage me to take on the project of writing a new script.
I had a great time doing the research for the play, learning about Poe’s life, re-reading some of his stories, and reading others for the first time. I was very familiar with “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven,” which must be the very best-known of Poe’s works – and for good reason: they’re both perfect in their construction, and hauntingly memorable in the tales they tell, and the characters they present. “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Black Cat” were familiar to me, at least in a vague way. “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Ligeia” and “William Wilson,” meanwhile, were entirely new to me. And there were numerous other Poe stories which we chose not to dramatize that I explored as part of the writing process, bits and pieces of which I used in the Poe interludes that occur throughout the play.
The stickiest part of writing a play based on any story by Poe is that he generally wrote heaps of narration, with very little dialogue. It is not impossible, of course, to have an actor (or actors) perform a scene while narrating it, and past versions of the play have taken that approach at times. But I challenged myself to find ways of eschewing narration as often as possible. Sometimes it was a matter of adapting it directly into dialogue, adjusting it subtly to make it conversational. In “Tell-Tale Heart” it becomes more of an internal dialogue. In “The Black Cat” I decided that much of what was important could simply be shown rather than told. I was lucky to have a game director in Jared, who helped me work out how to actually make those stylistic choices successful dramatically, and who did a lot to shape the script that we finally used.
As a playwright it’s also been gratifying to watch the other actors who appear in the show – Owen Corey, Lisa VillaMil and Susan Wefel – take it upon themselves to tell these stories with clarity and commitment. Jared’s scenic elements, the sound design by Kate Sparacio, the lighting design by Ari Baker, and the props and production design by Essie Windham all contribute importantly to the textures of the play, and the functionality of the stage on which it takes place.