Saturday, October 29, 2016

Edgar Allan Errol Flynn Poe - column

Mack Hall

Edgar Allan Errol Flynn Poe

Being part of the theatre department means being part of a family.
A really weird family.

-Numerous variations and attributions

Last week the Jasper High School Bulldog Theatre Company, directed by Mackenna Coffey, staged a pastiche of Edgar Allan Poe scenes culled from “The Raven,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Why are we never presented with a Tell-Tale Pancreas?

Given the small production and cast, Director Coffey and co. chose to position the audience seating on the stage, making for an intimate performance space which almost draws the audience into the set. The skillful blocking included cast members beginning their performances among the audience. This is the sort of thing that could project as a bit precious, but the actors worked the technique smoothly and without artifice.

The one set was minimalist with, as the program says, “Gothic Victorian and Steam Punk design elements…to blur the lines of what is real and what is in Poe’s mind.” This was the first indication that there would be no car chases or sword fights. Sigh.

Part of the fun was being able to see the lights, pulleys, lifts, connectors, and all the other complexities and gadgetries that make a professional theatrical presentation work. Every light, connector, and mysterious glowing globe is labeled with arcane markings and codes that are a mystery to the casual viewer but are a lingua Franca to the stage manager, lighting crew, sound crew, and move-heavy-things-around crew.

This was a premiere performance for many of the cast, with most of the experienced members of the troupe serving as crew and mentors so that the new actors could develop their skill and self-confidence. Sometimes the nervousness showed, which is how it should be. You don’t get to be a State of Texas U.I.L. championship actor as a senior without having been the third left nervous ensemble place-filler as a freshman.

A special strength was Cheyanne Nerren, who played Edgar Allan Poe with a vigor worthy of Errol Flynn, leaping around and sometimes onto the furniture. You almost expected her to draw a sword and as Robin Hood send the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham to his doom. She was outstanding through her sheer physicality and her mastery of the alternating comic patter and existential despair flung through hundreds of lines.

Savanna Billingsley in her too-brief appearance as the eponymous Raven very nearly took attention away from the lead. Even a small human is much larger than a large raven, and costuming said human as a raven could easily have deteriorated into an unintended comic effect. However, with restrained makeup and a simple black cloak with a bit of feathering at the throat Billingsley almost slithered (if a raven can be said to slither), slowly, menacingly, like a snake cornering a fear-frozen mouse, or one of Shakespeare’s three witches brooding wickedly over her destruction of Macbeth. Brilliant!

Mrs. McKenna’s band of merry minstrels this year includes: Breanna Astorga, Savanna Billingsley, Savannah Brasher, Jaden Carter, Daiyonia Collier, Katy Ferguson, Erin Klay, Lyric McLemore, Danielle Miller, Cheyanne Nerren, Allan Pulliam, Isabel Torres, and Daniel Zavala.

We look forward to seeing all of our fine young actors breaking metaphorical legs in different roles in the months to come, both in Jasper High School and Jasper Community Theatre productions, and sometimes as the second shepherd downstage right in Christmas plays.

     Television is furniture.
     Cinema is art.
     Theatre is life.

-Numerous variations and attributions


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