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Nestled near the West Fork River in Weston, the imposing stone structure of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum will be the scene this weekend for the world premiere of a play focused on the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe. The playwright sees the unique location, Poe’s tragic life story, and the enduring characters he created as a perfect match.
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…while I nodded nearly napping…suddenly there came a tapping as of someone gently rapping…rapping at my chamber door…..”
“The Raven” is perhaps one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most well-known works…and it will absolutely play a role in the new one-man show – “Poe: A Haunted Life.” Joey Madia, artistic director and resident playwright for Seven Stories Theatre Company based in north central West Virginia, has written and will perform the show. He sees Poe’s work as ground-breaking in a number of ways.
“He really certainly refined, if not invented then refined the short story and exactly what it should be,” says Madia. “He invented the detective novel, and I love Sherlock Holmes… and his character C. Auguste Dupin was the model of Holmes, from the pipe to the intellect to the quirkiness to the housemate writing the stories…I mean there would have been no Sherlock Holmes without Poe. And I think modern horror stories…so Stephen King, Clive Barker, the list goes on and on. He was really the genesis of all of it.”
Madia is a longtime fan of Poe’s work, but says he gained new insights during his research for the play. Poe was quite the researcher himself, says Madia, often taking some of the ideas for his stories right out of the newspaper. He says despite some bouts of drunkenness, Poe did not use alcohol to the degree often thought…and did not use drugs, as commonly assumed.
“And I think far from being a madman…having been a writer now, a professional writer for going on two decades …you cannot be insane out of your mind and create stories with the precision and the structure and the character development of his stories,” says Madia. “So those were the big things that I learned.”
Madia has been working closely with Director Robby Justiss. The two have been rehearsing and tweaking the script for several months. Justiss says he has gained a new appreciation for all things “Poe.”
“I had read a lot in high school, like everyone, I read a lot in middle school of all the classic Poe,” says Justiss. But I had never really studied it and really looked into the different characters and the different themes within the stories and how just complex and rich they really were.”
The show, which runs just under an hour, includes a number of those complex themes and characters…so why do it as a one-man show? Madia says it makes perfect sense.
“All of these characters came out of the mind of one man,” says Madia. “And somewhere along in the writing process I went from Poe hosting the show and exploring his own characters, to the show being hosted by C. Auguste Dupin, the detective.”
Currently, Saturday night’s performance is the only one scheduled, although Madia plans to offer it in other venues down the road. He also plans to create versions of it that could be done in school classrooms, offering opportunities for students to interact with Poe and his work.
“Poe: A Haunted Life” will be presented Saturday, September 20th at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston. Tickets include a reception and a tour of the facility prior to the performance. Check-in is at 4:30 p.m., the tour is at 5:00 and the show starts at 6:00.