Redlands Opera Theatre brought a wonderfully spooky production to the stage on October 25 and 26. The program included unusual fare for their audience, double-billing a one-man play about Edgar Allen Poe, entitled Lord Help My Poor Soul, alongside Gian Carlo Menotti’s two-act opera, The Medium.
Artistic director Tiana Dye and music director Christa Stevens set the play and opera in the 1800s to honor Redlands’ incorporation as a city in 1888. This artistic choice, when brought to life under the direction of Josh Shaw, was a compelling evening of theater. It is good to see Redlands Opera Theatre working together with other Southern California companies, such as Pacific Opera Project, where Shaw serves as artistic director. ROT’s shared, stated objective to create a network of smaller companies through the Southern California Opera Network (SCON) is a noble one.
Written by John Lynd, Lord Help My Poor Soul weaves together Edgar Allen Poe’s life through some of his most famous writings. The audience heard some favorites of Poe’s works, including The Tell-Tale Heart, Fall of the House of Usher, Annabelle Lee, and The Raven. The play is actually an hour-long monologue delivered by Poe, and the considerable demands of the show were met by actor Travis Rhett Wilson, who has won two Inland Theater League awards in 2010 and 2011 for this portrayal.
The Medium opens in the parlor of Madame Flora, known to her daughter Monica as “Baba”, where they prepare for the evening séance with Toby, the mute who lives with them. Kristen Speck’s vulnerable Monica was the perfect character foil for Elizabeth Ackerman’s Madame Flora, who owned the role both vocally and dramatically. In a wonderful twist, Wilson, fresh from his work in the previous play, appeared in the opera as Toby, a role which is often cast to non-singing actors. It was a pleasure to see his acting ability not only with his voice in the play, but also with his body language in the opera.
The household is visited by townsfolk who want to communicate with those they lost, played by Stevens, Jay Stephenson, and Rachel Payne. This solid trio believed they were speaking with those they lost, when in fact the tables were being turned on Madame Flora by the spirits of the beyond. Shaw’s brilliant use of lighting and shadow enabled the viewer to see when and where the menacing spirits attacked the protagonist. In the end, it is left to the audience to decide whether the demons were attacking Madame Flora, or if it was only her drunken visions that lead to Toby’s death.
The challenging music was deftly played on piano by Ed Yarnelle. The piano was part of the set as well, as it was presided over by a photo of Edgar Allen Poe and a raven. How fitting for this wonderfully spooky presentation of two rare gems.