R.H. Wilhoit and Rex Hobart in Tell-Tale Electric Poe (Jeff Church, courtesy of The Coterie Theatre)
Creating spooky—even downright scary—material that can engage both children and adults without being too frightening for the former or too simplistic for the latter seems like an impossible task. It is deeply impressive that the Coterie Theatre has managed to do just that once again with the return of their annual fall production, Tell-Tale Electric Poe.
This is the first year I’ve gotten to catch this show, meaning I’ve missed the last two years when it was staged outdoors at Union Cemetery. I don’t know if I’ll stop kicking myself for that anytime soon, but I’m happy to report that the current version mounted indoors at the Coterie’s home base inside Crown Center is still satisfyingly creepy. That’s largely due to Jarrett Bertoncin’s eerie lighting, which casts a dusky, haunting light over the action and Riley Lathom’s ghostly set.
The show is a deceptively simple conceit, executed masterfully. R.H. Wilhoit is the production’s lone actor, narrating Poe’s work and inhabiting its characters with impressive skill and ease, bringing out every ounce of humor present in the dark text and then some. Rex Hobart scores the action with his electric guitar, and what he offers is far more than simple accompaniment. He and Wilhoit play off each other, escalate one another, and create a tense lyrical dialogue between them.
Rather than repeat previous years’ material, director Jeff Church has once again opted to present two new stories (and one poem). Starting with Poe’s poem The Bells before moving into The Premature Burial and the classic tale of self-inflicted emotional terror The Tell-Tale Heart, Wilhoit shows off his incredible range, embodying each vastly different narrator and the various characters each recounts, milking the stories’ humor and horror in equal measures.
With Electric Poe, Church and the Coterie have created a truly original production that, with any luck, will develop into a fully-fledged and widely cherished fall theater tradition for many years to come, if not—we can hope—permanently.
“Tell-Tale Electric Poe” runs through October 30 at the Coterie Theatre, 2450 Grand Blvd. For more information, visit www.thecoterie.org.